Good Work Habits Help Teens Win Future Jobs

by Ron Adams

Teenagers with part-time or summer jobs are laying the foundation for future employment. How they perform in their current jobs can influence how marketable they’ll be to employers in the future. Leaning basic skills – like punctuality, reliability, and a positive attitude – also apply to school performance, as well as job success.


Any job where a teen has a responsibility to show up, have a good attitude, and work hard is good. Often these initial job experiences help teens learn skills that can’t be taught at home. Teens learn to interact with others, learn that it’s okay to work in a less-than-satisfying job to work their way up, and get to generally experience working, not just hear about it. Above all, they are developing a work history and positive references for the future.

Employers tell me they look for the following characteristics in job applicants:

  • Steady work histories
  • Motivation and good attitudes
  • Attendance and  punctuality
  • Skills and experience that match the job description
  • Good references


The U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy reports (pdf) several skills that are fundamental to work readiness. These include: professionalism or work ethic, oral and written communication, teamwork and collaboration, and critical thinking or problem-solving skills.


The main issues employers have with their workers are missed work, lateness and poor attitudes. People who have developed poor work habits tend to quit or be fired. This causes gaps in work histories that future employers will question. Fortunately, transition-age youth are starting with a clean slate! They can start to build a good work record, learning about what they like and don’t like, while they develop good work habits that can lead to successful employment in the future.


For youth and students who have disabilities, the transition from school to work can be aided by Vocational Rehabilitation counselors, who are assigned to every high school in Minnesota. Services are customized for each student and might include interest and ability testing, informational interviewing, or career exploration services. Other services include payment for materials and equipment, assistive technology, job placement, and job-seeking skills training. Counselors work with students’ Individualized Education Program (IEP) teams to create an employment plan that helps students make informed choices about their job goals and identifies which services are needed and who will provide them.


A version of this article appeared in the February 2012 FOCUS Newsletter, a publication of Minnesota Hands & Voices.


Ron Adams is an employment coordinator for Vocational Rehabilitation Services at the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.


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