Those words may conjure up different reactions, depending on your age.
If you are old enough to look back on a summer job, you likely have fond memories of fun co-workers, not-funny-at-the-time-but-hilarious-now workplace horror stories and that feeling of money in your pocket that was all yours.
But if you haven’t yet held a summer job? Well, then, ugh. Why work when there are better things to do?
As it turns out, though, there may not be better things to do. At least not in the long run. That’s because having a summer job teaches the skills needed for a better adult life.
Eve Bowmaster, a 46-year-old mother of three in Perry Hall, Maryland, has seen it with her own kids. Now in their late teens and early 20s, all three held summer jobs starting at the age of 14.
Having a summer job led to each of the kids having “a deeper respect for money and the time it takes to earn the money needed for what they wish to purchase,” Bowmaster said.
“Each one had an “a-ha” moment when they realized how many hours it would take while working minimum wage to pay for groceries, to put gas in the car or to see a movie with friends.”
In another words, to think like a responsible young adult.
The Importance of Work
While many acknowledge the value of work for teens, fewer teens than ever are actually working.
A Brookings Institution study found that between 2000 and 2014, the percentage of employed teens fell from 42 percent to 26 percent. By 2014, only one in four teens held a job.
Pew Research Center conducted a similar study, looking at teen summer employment back to 1948. The percentage of teens with summer jobs bounced between 46 percent and 58 percent between 1948 and 1990. But it’s been on the decline since, and by 2014 stood at 31 percent.
Martha Ross and Nicole Prchal Svaqjlenka, co-authors of the Brookings study, wrote that the numbers show “most teens are missing key learning and developmental experiences that will prepare them for the labor market and adulthood.
“Teens know the social role of the student, whether they embrace the role or not, but these data suggest they are learning far less about the role of the worker.”
To help combat the trend, Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh recently formed a leadership council of local businesses to help find summer workplaces for teens as part of the city’s YouthWorks program.
“Half the workforce will be millennials by 2020 and it is important for business to hire youth to shape the future workforce,” Pugh said in prepared remarks.
Kids aren’t going to get rich working summers. The highest percentage work in food service or retail. In 2014, the average teen worker made $7.69 per hour, according to the Brookings report.
But summer jobs aren’t about the money. Teens learn a variety of skills that help them later in life.
Bowmaster said the best summer jobs for her kids involved uniforms or a dress code and, ideally, were not a workplace filled with friends. She said the experience of working with a diverse group of strangers got the kids “out of their comfort zones.”
Her father, a high school guidance counselor, made sure Bowmaster and all four of her siblings worked a job. “I followed what my wise parents taught me – a part time job is not about the money, it’s about life experiences,” Bowmaster said.
Those experiences often are unexpected. Her son, who failed to read all the details of a summer job he took while in college, lost a bonus because he left the job a week earlier than required in the job agreement. Now an accountant, he reads the fine print on every deal he signs.
And her daughter, who Bowmaster said was a “timid teen,” learned to advocate for herself. She experienced sexual harassment at one workplace when a co-worker “playfully smacked her on the bottom several times.” Her daughter had a meeting with the manager and the young man involved, making it clear he had crossed a line.
“This was a valuable lesson for both teens regarding appropriate work place behavior as well as lessons on respect,” Bowmaster said.
The kids also handled the day-to-day details of work. They managed their schedules, set up transportation to and from work, made sure their uniforms were clean and learned how to deal with co-workers on issues such as exchanging shifts.
“They learned to be an organized, thoughtful, and responsible employee,” Bowmaster said. “Isn’t that what all managers dream of?”