In praise of summer jobs, busy kids and happy parents

Some weeks back while perusing social media, I spotted the hashtag #FirstSevenJobs (and later #first7jobs) trending on my Twitter feed. Here is the list of first jobs I posted.

Camp counsellor
Brick maker
Burger flipper
School janitor
Warehouse shipper
Expo 86 sound crew

Before long it seemed like everyone — from former prime ministers to astronauts — were tweeting how they got their working life started. No surprise to me, none of the work sounded very glamorous.

At age 16, I could hardly wait to find a job, plus my parents were putting considerable pressure on me to get my butt out of bed and start earning some spending money.

I landed two jobs that summer, and to this day I do not know which one was tougher. It was either stacking bricks next to a raging hot kiln for $4 an hour, or loading fast food waste into a trash compactor for $2.60 an hour. The latter was at the minimum wage for a youth under 18, as I recall.

Nonetheless, it all helped me to learn a little humility at an early age, while providing a lesson in what it takes to earn a buck.

Now, as a parent of a teenage girl, the shoe is on the other foot. I am reminded that finding your first summer job is not only tough, you have to be prepared to keep your expectations in check.

Our daughter was really eager to find a job at age 14, but few employers are ready to hire at that age. The solution we created was to find a volunteer position at a reputable summer day camp where our daughter would have a regular shift, with her parents providing her with a daily stipend.

The arrangement appears to have worked out for her, and for us. The following summer she was invited back and even managed to negotiate a raise out of us. It also provided her with experience she could put on her next job application.

Our daughter finally got her first “real” job at the PNE this summer. It is shift work that at times leaves her dog tired, but she loves the job and cannot wait to tell us about her day when she gets home.

What parents will soon discover is that when their teens get employment they will be responsible for chauffeuring them, especially when they work the late shifts. But taxiing someone home past your bedtime is a small price to pay, knowing they are getting home safely.

The Canadian unemployment rate for youth aged 15 to 25 is typically around 14 per cent, or about twice the rate of those 25 and up. Rates are generally higher for 15 to 17 year olds. It surprised me to learn we have among the lowest youth unemployment rates worldwide, according to data collected by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

By that measure about one out of six kids will find it challenging to secure work, which lines up with a random survey of my network. There is a palpable sense of pride and relief from parents when they tell you their teens have landed work for the summer.

When they cannot find a job, however, there is some distress.

My daughter reminds me how busy her life is during the school year. Between class time, many hours of homework, extracurricular activities and volunteering, it is any wonder they have time left for anything else.

The summer break from school therefore becomes the only practical time for a typical teen to hold down a job.

Experience shows that getting into the workforce early helps to make a person much more employable as they get older. Ask any small business owner and they will tell you that having employees they can depend upon is a godsend.

So as the next school year approaches, let’s sing the praises of the summer job. They may not be the most stimulating or exciting work your kids will ever do, but one day they will look back fondly at those #FirstSevenJobs and be thankful for the experience, the paycheques and even the happy parents.

Originally published in Vancouver Courier newspaper.