How Summer Jobs Shaped Me into a More Responsible Person

We can only acquire so many lessons in school, and working creates other opportunities to learn.

For most 16-year-olds, the world is simple. Go to school and go home. Maybe participate in a sports practice if it’s in season, or in a club. But that’s really it.

Everything changes when final exams end and summer begins. Kids swap their jeans and t-shirts for khakis and polos or some other type of work uniform. Books are swapped for timecards, and homework is replaced by the exhaustion of a hard day’s work.

At least, that’s how it used to be.

Every year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports the July labor force participation rate for men and women between the ages of 16 and 24. The most recent data from the BLS reveals a troubling trend for today’s youth.

Prior to 1964, women did not make up a large percentage of the workforce. Consequently, the current labor force participation rate for young women is 58.8 percent, an increase from the all-time low of 45.1 percent in 1950. Despite this overall improvement, the percentage of young women in the labor force has been decreasing from the all-time high of 72.4 percent in 1989. The situation isn’t any better for men.

The male labor force participation rate is concerning, to say the least. In July 1957, the labor force participation rate for young men hit an all-time high at 86.1 percent. In July 2017, 62.3 percent of young men participated in the labor force. Part of this sharp decline is the result of women’s emergence in the workplace, which led to increased competition for jobs. Even after controlling for gender, the statistics are concerning.

In July 2017, the combined labor force participation rate for 16-24-year-old men and women was only 60.6 percent, down from the high of 77.5 percent in 1989.

In July 2017, the combined labor force participation rate for 16-24-year-old men and women was only 60.6 percent, down from the high of 77.5 percent in 1989. Unless this downward trend changes, more and more young adults will suffer the consequences of delaying employment.

Why are summer jobs valuable? Competency isn’t something we are born with, it’s something we need to develop. We can only acquire so many lessons in school, and working creates other opportunities to learn. My time working summer jobs in high school and college shaped me into a more responsible person.

Get Knocked Down

I learned that success on the job requires much more than just showing up.

Teenagers really aren’t worth that much. Years of schooling do a great job of teaching young adults how to be students. But the skills required to be a reliable employee can only be learned on the job. Soon after starting my first summer job, I realized my good grades wouldn’t get me as far in the real world as I previously thought. I made lots of mistakes and acquired lots of new skills working in the service industry. I toughened up through the occasional setback and feedback (including criticism) from my supervisors. I learned that success on the job requires much more than just showing up. It requires listening, improving, and adding value to the organization.

Save, Save, Save, Then Save Some More

It’s in the news constantly: Student loan debt is skyrocketing. Combined with the cost of living as a full-time student, young adults have fewer opportunities to save their money. About 50 percent of millennials have less than $2,430 in savings. High school is a special time when young adults aren’t responsible for rent, food, or most other necessary life expenses. Working during high school is a great way to kickstart the savings journey early. Young adults should be taking any chance to offset future costs.

Play the Long Game

There’s something about a child screaming because you ran out of their ice cream flavor or a pile of vomit on the floor you have to clean up that really makes you consider what you want to do when you grow up. Few people want to work these jobs for the rest of their lives. Aside from teaching necessary life skills, manual labor can be a catalyst to do well in college or pursue other careers. Thinking beyond the next week, month, and year can be a pivotal lesson.

The Internship

For college students who worked in high school, the internship hunt can seem overwhelming. We know we want to move beyond washing dishes, making coffee, or scooping ice cream, but those skills don’t seem translatable to a corporate office. The good news? They are.

Having examples beyond the classroom helped me earn both internships—much more than a resume that only has “student” for experience.

Experience in the service industry has value. You learn how to work with lots of different types of people and see the rewards of doing more than expected. When I interviewed for my first college internship, I cited my experience working for the ice cream store in high school. When I interviewed for my most recent internship, I talked about the lessons I learned working on a boat the previous summer. Having examples beyond the classroom helped me earn both internships—much more than a resume that only has “student” for experience.

I began working five years ago, a few weeks after I turned 16. Despite a few brief hiatuses, I haven’t really stopped. I went from a student who could barely ring up an order to a competent and responsible adult. It all began with that first summer job.