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Stacking the Deck: Dr. Temple Grandin and the Importance of Teen Work

by Kimberly Roy, HSFPP Manager
May 11, 2016

Derek and Dr. Temple Grandin A few years ago I watched the movie Temple Grandin with my scientifically-minded preteen, Derek. Over the years Dr. Temple Grandin, a world-renowned inventor and designer of livestock handling facilities, has become one of Derek’s science heroes, so he was excited when I invited him to come with me to hear her speak this April.

As we walked into the hotel looking for the ballroom where the talk was taking place, we suddenly saw that we were standing right next to Dr. Grandin. She and Derek launched into a conversation about construction and cement trucks (I would be more specific, but their conversation quickly turned so technical that I wasn't able to follow along).

When Derek told Dr. Grandin that he will be turning 15 in May, she followed up with a common question for teens.

“Do you have a job this summer?” she asked.

I jumped in and told her we were working on it.

“Don’t work on it mom,” Dr. Grandin told me. “Do it!”

Dr. Grandin’s keynote speech turned out to be dedicated to the subject of teens and work. She told the packed ballroom, “We have got to start the transition to the work world way before the transition. I don’t think kids are getting exposed to enough career options to know what they will like to do.”

When asked whether homework qualifies as “work” Dr. Grandin said she doesn’t think so. “Homework is something you do for yourself,” she said. “Teens need to experience working for someone else.”

When you work for someone else, you do the job you are assigned, she explained, whether or not you enjoy it or like it. You do it because that is what you were hired to do. You do it because you get a paycheck that you can use to buy things you want and need. And when you do your job duties and your school work well, you can earn the opportunity to get paid to do a job you enjoy. But you have to learn the value of doing the work as assigned, whether or not it is glamorous.

“I cleaned out horse stalls,” Grandin said. “It was tough, but I got money for it and I enjoyed that. I knew the value of the money that I earned, and knew what it would buy.”

Derek and I returned home fired up about finding him a job, but my husband, a former restaurant manager, was skeptical. All of his former employers required that their staff be at least 16-years-old, and he thought that was because under 16 youth would need a special work permit.

So I jumped on my computer to learn more about labor laws for 15-year-olds in Colorado. I started with the Department of Labor website Youth Rules. The website provides information on federal regulations regarding youth in different age groups, and for youth working in agriculture. The site also provides links to state labor laws. The restrictions for 14- to 15-year-olds include what hours they can work, as well as what kind of jobs they can perform. Sixteen to 17-year-olds have no federal laws regarding the hours that they work, and can perform any job that has not been declared hazardous by the Secretary of Labor.

The Colorado Youth Law website provides a side-by-side comparison of the Colorado and federal youth labor laws. In some cases Colorado’s law is more restrictive; in other cases, the federal law has more limitations. The website clarifies that, in cases of dual jurisdiction between state and federal youth labor requirements, “those that set the higher standard or provide greater protection to the employee would prevail.”

In light of the long list of restrictions for 15-year-olds versus 16-year-olds, I have not been surprised to learn that most of the jobs in our neighborhood require applicants to be at least 16. This has slowed down Derek’s job search, but we continue to forge ahead, talking to people that we know who might be willing to take on a 15-year-old even though he will have more restrictions than his 16-year-old peers.

When I asked Dr. Grandin what to do if Derek was having trouble finding a job, she said, “Stack the deck! Talk to people you know who will give him a chance for his first job.” So that is what I’m doing. Using my network to help my son get his start in the work world.