Summer Jobs & Community Assets

One great benefit of summer jobs programs is the way that a summer jobs program can highlight the strengths and assets of the community.

Youth participants learn about businesses and organizations in their community with jobs in every sector – business, finance, science/technology, government, human services, childcare, museums, parks, environment, agriculture, tourism, hospitality and more.    Throughout the summer, youth participate in seminars and trainings that build skills, including career awareness, resume writing, on-the-job skills, leadership and civic awareness.   Employers have an opportunity to provide mentoring and to reflect on their own strengths and role in the community.   End-of-summer presentations and reflection journals build on this awareness of community assets.

The statewide Massachusetts Career Ready Database provides a format for collecting some of the stories from summer jobs programs.   The database can be used or programs from any funding source – Connecting Activities (which sponsors the database), YouthWorks, WIOA, and any other state or local programming.

If you manage a summer jobs program in Massachusetts, you can use the database to manage the placement information and Work-Based Learning Plans for participants and to describe the career development activities that take place during summertime workshops, seminars, projects and end-of-summer events.   The menu of report screens in the database can tell the story of your program and other programs statewide.  What industry clusters did students work?  What skills were highlighted on their Work-Based Learning Plans?   Is there evidence of skill gain through the average ratings on performance reviews?  What career development activities did your programs provide?   What were some of the job titles and job descriptions for the participants?

Read more at to find resources related to the Work-Based Learning Plan, career development, reflection/journaling and more, and find the database manual at


Science Wednesdays

New on my calendar this year — each Wednesday afternoon I am leading a Science Wednesdays group for a group of children ages 7-12, plus teen assistants.  

Our small group meets weekly after school on Wednesdays in the conference room of a nonprofit group.  We enjoy the luxury of having time and materials for experimenting.   For the study of electronics, we have a variety of kits with gears, motors, lights and generators, plus a collection of DIY materials including motors, lights, computer fans, batteries, wire, tape and cardboard.  A favorite moment recently – a younger child used a small motor to spin pretty much everything he could find, including a bit of orange peel that was left over from the afternoon snack time.  “I can smell it!” he declared as he watched the orange peel spinning on the motor.

Similarly, for the study of chemistry we have test tubes and trays with kitchen chemistry materials such as yeast, lemon juice, and vinegar.  Geology is another favorite, with the study of geology blending into the study of chemistry and physics.   Music and sound was another activity, drawing on the physics of sound.

One of my current goals is to use board game design as a method for easily and naturally reflecting on and consolidating knowledge from the hands-on experiments.   A current project is a molecule-building game; a recent project was an “adventures at the science museum game.”

What are the skills that students learn in these early science experiences?  I think that key skills include the ability to ask questions as well as to gather knowledge; the ability to stretch your imagination and think about things that are hard to imagine; but also the ability to build and experiment with things that are very visual and easy to see.   Students become comfortable with the vocabulary of science as well as the habits of minds used in science.

What is the Mosaic Economy?

Environment and jobsA couple of years ago I wrote “The Mosaic Economy,” exploring the question “where are the jobs in today’s economy?”

I like to describe the economy as a “mosaic economy.”  The economy is clearly not made up of just one source of jobs, but many different sectors that come together.  Rather than an economy in which “everyone” works in fishing or farming or mining or manufacturing, the mosaic economy has many different interdependent parts.  And like a mosaic, each time you look, a new picture emerges.

Like many generations before, today’s economy has many stories about emerging new technologies and trends as well as stories about people exploring and reclaiming older, almost-lost knowledge and production techniques.

Themes of personal environment, community connectedness, artisanship, and entrepreneurship are part of the mosaic. A reemergence of manufacturing and agricultural work is also part of the picture. Technology-oriented jobs, and working with software, medical research, green technologies and other emerging fields are part of the mosaic. Interdependent public, nonprofit, and private sector projects and organizations blend together to form the mosaic.

What are the essential elements for a healthy job market in which such a mosaic takes shape?   One essential element is the removal of barriers to the free flow of ideas and investments.  Education is essential, including options for study of science and technology, vocational/technical skills, career development skills, entrepreneurship skills, community development and community health.  Public, nonprofit and private investment is essential.  Another essential element that I have written about is the removal of barriers along social, cultural, economic and geographic lines. 

As we reflect on the 2016 presidential election, we reflect that this election highlighted the increasing divisions among  social, cultural, economic and geographic groups.   

But this is not the first national election to highlight geographic divisions.  At many other points in history, political and populist movements have highlighted differences such as rural agrarian interests and urban industrialized interests; or heartland manufacturing belt vs. coastal cities. 

One of the essential tasks at this point in time is a renewed focus on removing barriers and increasing the flow of ideas and social investments among a wider segment of the country; with a renewed focus on highlighting the economic and social strengths of communities that have been left behind.    How would this happen?  We would start by looking at history.  What are some historical examples of movements and projects that built unity across geographic and social divides?  And look at present success stories and statistics.  Where are there signs of division?  Where are there signs of connectedness?  Where are there opportunities for social and economic investments that would bridge current gaps?

More thoughts to come –

Why a Youth Development Focus?

Mapping community assets
A positive youth development approach focuses on building community assets that support youth in their healthy development.

This month, I am celebrating the 20th anniversary of my business, The Skills Library, with a series of posts about my work. This work continues to be exciting, with one project always leading to another.   I have active projects right now with youth employment programs, career/vocational technical education programs, adult education, special education and more.  I pair this with active community involvement with children’s programs, parks and community gardening, church networks and more.   All of these projects share a “positive youth development” focus: work that creates the type of community that supports both youth and adults in healthy, positive development.

One of my early projects was with the Massachusetts Promise Youth Summit, an offshoot of the America’s Promise Alliance led by General Colin Powell in the 1990s. America’s Promise focused on building community assets in support of youth development. A cornerstone of that work was the importance of focusing on assets more than on deficits in communities.   When youth grow up seeing adults who contribute to their communities, who own and manage businesses in the community, who build parks and community gardens and sports programs, who participate in arts and music, and who offer opportunities for youth to get involved as well, youth will feel supported and nurtured in their own development.

The asset-based focus resonated with me then and continues to be a strong focus of my work.

Read more about The Skills Library on my website at and stay tuned for additional posts in celebration of this anniversary.

About America’s Promise
The America’s Promise Alliance has continued and is now (like me!) celebrating 20 years of work. Read more about them at the website.
America Promise

Why The Skills Library?

Skills Library LogoThis October marks the twentieth anniversary of my business, The Skills Library.  I am celebrating the anniversary with a series of short articles about the work I have been doing.   

First, why did I choose this name? 

The name started as a brainstorming exercise. While thinking about starting the business, I created a list of words related to employment, careers and job markets.  I listed words like “work”, “job”, “career”, “skills”, “future”, etc., and put the words in two columns.  Then I drew lines between the columns, contemplating various combinations of words.   Skills Library sounded good.   Definitely “SKILLS” because I wanted the business to be focused on supporting people in developing career skills, with a mission to engage people in understanding how various skills form the foundation for successful careers.  And I wanted to create a collection of resources that would support youth programs, schools, agencies and organizations in this mission, and so the word “LIBRARY” was a good fit.

The word “library” resonates with people.  A library can be either personal or public.  It is a place where you can find a useful, interesting and thoughtfully-assembled collection of materials. It is a place you can borrow from, and, in the case of a public library, a place you can claim as your own.   A library implies an exchange of information, reflecting the openness that represents the best of a contemporary information-based economy.   

The Skills Library is a big name for a solo business, and I was a little nervous about whether I could grow into the name.   There was the obvious risk of being mistaken for a public library, and I have, in fact, received many phone calls asking if I was the local public library.   More times than I can count, I’ve given out the local library’s phone number, occasionally told a caller when the public library would be open, and even gotten into a debate about local history with a caller who thought I might be a reference librarian.   And even when not being mistaken for a local library, I worried a little at those moments when someone asked, “What is the Skills Library?” and I answer “oh, that’s just me, that’s my consulting business.” 

But meanwhile, I am happy that the business has grown into the name.  Although I continue to work as a solo entrepreneur, it’s rarely “just me” since I have had part-time employees, interns and various partners working with me on many projects.   And more than that, clients take ownership of the projects, from databases to curriculum websites to skills portfolios to how-to-guides.   I am delighted when I hear people refer to a Skills Library database with a sense of ownership, thinking of it as their own database where their information, program accomplishments and program reports are found.  I am delighted when I check web traffic reports and I notice that materials that I have written about skills and careers are being widely read and shared.  And I am delighted when new projects continue to come my way, with the goodwill earned from one project spilling over into invitations to launch more new projects.  

Celebrating a twenty year anniversary feels good!   Stay tuned for some more reflections over the next few weeks. 


Youth Development and Summer Jobs

A reflection on the concept of “youth development” in the context of youth summer jobs …..
Photo of student in summer internship
The concept of Youth Development is used to design youth programs through a positive lens, viewing youth as positive assets to the community and understanding the positive experiences that contribute to personal development.   Youth development theory emphasizes the idea of focusing on assets rather than deficits, viewing youth employment programs and summer jobs programs not as “keeping kids off the streets” or “crime prevention”, but as positive opportunities for youth to develop skills, make a contribution to the community, earn money, gain work experience, gain career awareness and build a resume.

In the spirit of youth development, it is useful to recognize the assets that youth bring to their jobs, as well as to understand the developmental needs of youth as they gain their first work experiences.  Therefore, when supervising youth in youth employment programs, finding the right level of supervisory support is important. As teens and young adults begin their early work experiences, they bring a mixture of skills and readiness to these experiences. Teens and young adults have an emerging ability for complex reasoning and intellectual development. They are excited by opportunities to learn about the background and history of an organization, understand the larger context of their work, and understand how their work contributes to the goals of the organization. They appreciate settings in which they are respected and treated like adults.

At the same time, while youth are starting to develop higher-level skills and learn about careers and work, they generally need clear guidance about how to manage workplace expectations for time management, attendance and punctuality, workplace appearance, taking initiative and other basic skills.

Many youth employment programs provide orientation sessions and workshops to provide coaching about basic workplace expectations and skills as well as other topics. Programs also use informal, one-on-one coaching to support youth.

In many/most programs in Massachusetts,  the Massachusetts Work-Based Learning Plan helps to open up conversations between supervisors and youth about a range of topics relevant to skill development.

  • Use the Work-Based Learning Plan (WBLP) as a tool to open up conversations about the context of the work, the history and goals of the organization, and other topics of interest, as well as to outline the basic foundation skills needed on the job. Communicate excitement about the organization and its role in the community.  Share information about the organizational history, current projects, the number of customers or visitors, etc.
  • When writing a job description and list of skills/tasks, include information about “who, what, when, where, why, how” in order to share information about the context of the work.
  • Emphasize workplace safety through Work-Based Learning Plans and through formal or informal orientation to the workplace.
  • Include a mixture of special projects and routine day-to-day job duties in the design of summer jobs, in order to provide an experience that gives students a broad look at a variety of work projects and tasks in your field.
  • Throughout the WBLP and other program materials, use language that sets a positive, professional tone.
  • Read more about designing job descriptions at in the presentation “Writing Job Descriptions and Skills/Tasks”

In workshops about the Work-Based Learning Plan for youth employment program staff, I often ask participants to think about the best summer job they ever had.  Images of working at a favorite ice cream shop, a family-owned dress shop, a beach, a farm, a playground, a zoo and many other diverse workplace settings enter the conversation.  Images of informal mentoring, a sense of “belonging” and a sense of accomplishment are important.  These are the positive moments of summer for youth and young adults working in first jobs.

Creativity + School-to-Career Experiences

At the May 19th Massachusetts School-to-Career Connecting Activities conference, school partners in the Massachusetts Creativity & Innovation grant program displayed the projects that they have developed.  Displays included projects about robotics, design & innovation, math, physics, biology and the arts.   Participating schools have designed curriculum that engages students in “design thinking” and in the opportunity to experiment, tinker and try-out ideas, with the idea that sometimes there will be visible great results and sometimes failure and a chance to keep experimenting.

The creativity theme intermingled with the traditional themes of the Connecting Activities conference — career exploration, employer engagement, creating high-quality work experiences for students.  How does the theme of creativity fit into this work?   Several different connections –

1.) The creativity projects provide examples of approaches for connecting authentic, challenging, creative work into classrooms, allowing students to experience and build personal and career skills in design thinking, innovation, technology, the arts and more.

2.) The creativity projects highlight the ways that creative thinking is relevant across many fields of study, career areas and aspects of life.  Creativity is important in classrooms, personal life, community and career; in science, technology, engineering, arts, math, entrepreneurship, retail, food, media, education, nonprofit organizations & more.

3.) The  projects highlight the idea that there is a cluster of skills – communication, collaboration, leadership, critical and analytical thinking, research, persistence and more – that support creativity and innovation.  The featured speaker, Ayora Berry from PTC, also highlighted the idea that the best creative thinking happens when people combine broad knowledge and experiences across many subjects and topics with in-depth knowledge of a particular topic.   Students need opportunities to develop breadth of knowledge and experience at the same time that they are beginning to discover favorite subjects and career areas where they will focus in-depth study.

4.) Formal and informal apprenticeship is a key part of most creative career paths.  Many teachers, supervisors and career counselors have a gift for helping students to see the long-term career skills embedded in all kinds of entry-level job and early work experiences.


Where do everyday examples of creativity show up in the work-based learning placements sponsored by Connecting Activities?  Here are some examples drawn from sample Work-Based Learning Plans.

Business and Entrepreneurship

  • Creating marketing materials
  • Developing product ideas

Retail and Sales

  • Arranging clothing for display with an eye for color
  • Designing signs for retail displays
  • Mixing and matching items for display
  • Suggesting products that can meet customer needs; expanding options; thinking outside the box


  • Writing
  • Developing story ideas

Cable Television

  • Creating interesting topics for video production.

Culinary Arts

  • Adding your own spin to a recipe.
  • After reviewing with their site supervisor, creating your own recipe from scratch.
  • Designing the presentation of a dish you have made.


  • Working with color and shape to enhance garden and landscape design.
  • Working on signage for a park.

Graphic Design / Sign Design

  • Graphic design of signs, posters, brochures, flyers, other materials
  • Thinking outside the box with various tasks assigned


  • Developing games and craft projects
  • Storytelling


  • Developing ideas for a new organic farming project for a science department.
  • Creating meaningful and engaging study guides, vocabulary lists, assessments/quizzes and other materials
  • Creating bulletin boards and displays
  • Creating insightful, relevant questions on a specific text for use in classroom small group discussions.


  • Creating flyers to educate others on health and nutrition topics
  • In a nursing home activities program, modifying planned activities as needed to facilitate resident participation.


  • Creative approaches to visually presenting information.
  • Creative problem solving
  • Creative organizational strategies
  • Creatively using social media to market and promote products, services and activities


What other examples do you have? As you are helping to shape student work experiences, think about ways that you can highlight the potential for creativity in these experiences.

First Career Steps Survey: Career Development Opportunities

What are schools in your community doing to help students explore career options and plan for the future?  How could your community do more? The First Career Steps Survey asks students about the career exploration and planning activities they have done, as well as asking an open-ended question about what their school does that is most helpful.  The responses provide a strong testimony to the importance of career planning opportunities.  The more experiences students have, the more likely they are to say that they are confident and excited about their future.  They are more confident about their career skills and more likely to have identified possible career goals.

Most students indicated that they have talked to parents and friends about careers, showing that career planning is important to them.  More than half have explored websites or books to gather career information.   In comments, many mention searching online for career information, and indicate a strong desire to learn as much as they can, participating in classroom activities and school-wide events that support career exploration.  Many express gratitude for what their schools do, and/or suggest that they would like their school to do more, to provide connections with local businesses, including opportunities to learn about, visit and work in career areas that interest them.

The activities on this list present a menu of options for schools, communities and local businesses to provide support for students and their families as they work to explore career options.


About this project:  This article is part of a series of articles about the First Career Steps survey results.  The First Career Steps survey is a project of The Skills Library, an ongoing survey from 2011 to the present, with over 3,200 responses to date.

Question 5: Which of the following have you done?  (check all that apply)
Based on Grade 12 respondents only (572 of the 3,280 respondents)

Percent of Grade 12 Respondents
Talking with parents about careers 81%
Talking with friends about careers 77%
Looking at websites, videos or books about careers 54%
Career interest checklists/assessments 39%
Hearing guest speakers about careers at my school 37%
Career days or Career fairs 31%
Volunteer work 31%
Summer job(s) 30%
After-school job(s) 28%
Classroom projects related to career interests 22%
Field trips to companies and workplaces 18%
Clubs or activities related to career interests 17%
Job shadow days 14%
Internship(s) 9%
Summer program(s) related to career interests 8%
None of the above 2%

Choosing Postsecondary Paths – Work, Military, Apprenticeship & More

Through the online First Career Steps Survey, The Skills Library has been gathering insights into high school students’ career planning. The survey, now with over 3,200 results, is available from the Skills Library home page or directly from this link.

With a trend toward more and more students entering college after high school, it is not surprising that most – 87.4% of respondents – indicate that they are planning to attend a 2-year or 4-year college after high school.

But what are the plans of the 12.6% who are not currently planning to attend college?  At this point, there are 411 survey respondents who indicated plans other than college, from a total of 3,259 survey respondents.  Many of these 411 respondents have specific plans: working full-time, entering the military, attending a career training program, entering an apprenticeship program.

Some are planning a “gap” year to work before starting college, sometimes saying that they want to work fulltime before going on to college; others mentioning specific plans such as spending a gap year in Israel or to spend a year writing a book.

When asked about specific career interests, many of the non-college-bound group have specific goals, mentioning military careers, construction trades and other career options.  Some of the career areas mentioned include carpentry, culinary, cosmetology, childcare, horse training, house painting, law enforcement, masonry, plumbing, pipefitting, truck driving and welding.  A few of those who plan to work full-time mention “working for my dad” – reflecting the once-more-common path of working for a family business.

This data provides a conversation-opener about alternative paths after high school.  With the current emphasis on college, are schools and youth programs doing enough to support other options and to help students find and navigate the wider variety of postsecondary choices?

Skills Library research and projects show that most of the strongest schools and youth programs show students that there ARE a wide range of postsecondary choices.   Rather than a polarized “college or work” set of choices, those who work closely and observantly with youth see a healthy range of options, with a blend of school, work, apprenticeship, on-the-job training and formal and informal learning as important elements in career and life paths.  They also see the early post-high-school years as being about much more than career development.  These are years when young adults are shaping their own approaches to all aspects of life, making day-to-day choices around not only careers and work, but also community involvement, civic engagement, voting and politics, faith/religious involvement, health, diet, exercise, and much more.   Many of the same skills that help young adults to navigate first career steps are valuable in navigating in all of these other day-to-day aspects of life.   Knowing how to network with others.  Finding mentors.  Communication skills.  Knowing how to use (or how to learn to use) all kinds of tools and technology.  Knowing how to analyze information.  Creativity and critical thinking.  An attitude of lifelong learning.

Food for thought:  What trends have you seen?  What are some promising career paths that are accessible through apprenticeship, on-the-job training and other full-time employment paths?  What is your school, youth program or community doing to support and acknowledge young adults choosing a variety of different paths after high school?  If you are a young adult who went from high school to work, training, apprenticeship or other options, what are the elements that have made it work well for you?



Seven Skills for Parks and Landscaping

What are the skills learned in jobs and internships in parks and landscaping?  How can summer jobs in park maintenance and landscaping be designed to help youth build skills and explore career options?  What types of projects and tasks enhance learning?  Here is an example of seven skills, with associated tasks, taken from a sample of Work-Based Learning Plans.

Skill Description
Horticulture and Plant Knowledge Demonstrate knowledge of garden plants, weeds and invasive species through successfully performing professional tasks including transplanting, watering, weeding and invasive plant removal.
Time Management Maintain a safe and steady pace of work.  Select tasks and manage workflow according to the availability of tools and materials, team members, weather and other factors.
Leadership Exercise critical thinking, creativity and leadership through participation in park improvement projects.  Projects may include, for example, creating or improving garden beds, upgrading signage in the park, repainting or refinishing benches and other park features, or other special projects.
Managing information / Using technology Collect and organize information in support of park projects.  Projects may include, for example, digital photography for park websites or end-of-summer presentations; maintaining a database of landscape plants or invasive species, updating a map of park features, or other special projects.
Using tools and equipment Select and use tools and equipment to complete park projects.  Demonstrate knowledge of how to select the best tools and equipment for each project; how to work safely with tools and equipment; and how to clean, store and maintain tools and equipment.
Environmental awareness Though special projects and/or end-of-summer presentations, demonstrate awareness of environmental themes related to park operations.
Career awareness Though special projects and/or end-of-summer presentations, demonstrate awareness of the roles of various professionals and volunteers in management of the park.