The Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the labor participation rate, defined as those seeking employment or employed, is 17 percentage points below its peak in 1989. According to a J.P. Morgan Chase study, only 46% of teenagers that apply for a job this summer will actually become employed. A survey of official in 14 major cities estimates that tens of thousands of youths from economically disadvantaged families will not be able to find employment this summer in their urban centers. So what is the value of a summer job to teenagers in the short and long term?
My first summer job was at Arby’s restaurant in my hometown of Midland. My parents let me know it was time to begin earning money for college and spending on my social experiences. Up to that time I had done odd jobs here and there, but was never obligated to show up for work for scheduled shifts for a longer period of time. My friends made me aware of the job at Arby’s and I applied using them as a reference. After a 20 minute interview I was awarded the job, a uniform, a paper hat, and my first schedule including training sessions. I tuned up my bike for the 12 block ride to work 4 to 6 days a week. So what was the value of that job to me?
Working at Arby’s paid me minimum wage which was around $3.45 per hour. It didn’t make me rich. But that jobs value was more than the wage. It taught me time management. I learned how to step out of my comfort zone and learn new skills. It taught me that with consistent and creative effort comes more responsibility, respect, and increased compensation. I found that doing more than what was expected increased my value in the eyes of my employer, while seeing those around me that did less than expected were rewarded with termination of employment.
At Arby’s each employee was part of a team whose mission was great customer service. My manager, Dave, didn’t play favorites but reward those that exceeded his expectations. The rewards may have been in the form of a free meal but often was just a moment of conversation and praise for specific actions we took that he appreciated. These conversations always concluded with statements of how it benefited others on the team and the customer.
So why are summer jobs so important to teenagers? Teenagers are in what experts call formative years. They are looking for purpose and direction that allow them to establish and endorse core values which will stick with them for the rest of their lives. Numerous studies have shown the value of employment. Success as an employee is like a self-confidence drug, once you get a taste of it you yearn for more. Lessons learned by a teenager during a summer job can help establish a strong work ethic, develop an understanding of how to contribute in a team environment, help prioritize tasks and much more. And the hidden take-away from a summer job? The never-ending yearning of each student to pursue a job where they can be successful in attaining the self-confidence drug is where the true value lies.