Summer School

Dennis Friedman

WHEN I WAS a teenager, I couldn’t wait to get a summer job. Just the thought of it would give me goose bumps. Why? I could earn my own money and buy the car I desperately wanted: a two-tone 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air with a big steering wheel that looked like it belonged on a bus.

My dream was to gain some independence and drive myself wherever I needed to go. After working a number of summer jobs, I bought the car at the beginning of my senior year in high school.

You want to know something about that new used car? At the time, it was the best car I’d ever been in. The reason: I bought it with my own money. I was so proud of myself. It was my first big purchase and I didn’t have any buyer’s remorse.

Later in life, I realized the most important thing about my summer jobs wasn’t the money or the stuff I was able to buy. Instead, it was what I learned about life and how it prepared me for fulltime work.

During those summer jobs, I met people from all walks of life. Some were kind and helpful, others not so much. It was a small glimpse into what working life was going to be like as an adult—something that can’t be taught in high school or college.

Today, it isn’t as easy for teenagers to get a summer job. But if they’re fortunate enough to land one, there are six key benefits:

  1. Temperament. In the workplace, you deal with people who hold opposing political views and are from different cultural or religious backgrounds, and you have to learn to interact with them. You need to have the patience and personality to develop a working relationship with your coworkers. It’s a crucial skill to learn.
  2. Resilience. When working, things don’t always go according to plan. There are mishaps and setbacks. You need the fortitude to overcome them.
  3. Communication skills. A summer job will teach you how to communicate better. Speaking to customers from different backgrounds, and trying to solve problems, requires good communication skills.
  4. College admissions. If you want to get into a highly rated college, holding a summer job will be looked upon favorably by the college’s admission staff. Job experience shows you’re a mature and responsible individual. It also shows you’re a team player who’ll be able to work and get along with your fellow students.
  5. Value of money. According to Karen Burns, writing for The Seattle Times, “Research shows that, in the long run, those who start working in high school earn up to 10% to 15% more than those who didn’t dip a toe in the job market until after college graduation.” On top of that, earning money early in life makes you realize that those dollars don’t come easily and shouldn’t be squandered.
  6. Discipline. To hold a job, you need to follow orders from your superiors and adhere to the company’s rules and regulations. You won’t last long if you don’t show up for work on time.

Dennis Friedman retired from Boeing Satellite Systems after a 30-year career in manufacturing. Born in Ohio, Dennis is a California transplant with a bachelor’s degree in history and an MBA. A self-described “humble investor,” he likes reading historical novels and about personal finance. His previous articles include Naming NamesBlame Game and Not as Advertised. Follow Dennis on Twitter @DMFrie.

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3 years ago

Agree but with a caveat. Having school-aged kids, it’s currently EASY for almost anyone to get a summer job, it’s so bad that businesses can’t operate due to the lack of workers. Just last week I was at my local coffee shop and the proprietor told me she had to shut one location down for the summer simply due to lack of employees. In my observation it’s not due to the lack of available help, it’s due to the lack of effort. Too many HS and college kids I know feel it’s either “beneath them” if it’s not a paid internship, or they are floated enough by family/parents that they don’t feel or appreciate a connection to the value and worth of money.

John Yeigh
John Yeigh
3 years ago

In our region, teen service sector jobs are generally available, but they are not perceived as helping a lot with college admissions (your point 4). Today, many kids spend their summers at internships, summer college or advanced placement courses, robotics or engineering or other STEM camps, SAT prep courses, sports camps, undertaking community service work, childminding younger siblings, and the like which all may support college admissions as much as holding a job.

3 years ago

Great post – definitely agree, which is why it has been so disheartening to learn that many businesses won’t hire anyone under 18 anymore. Learned this as I helped my 17-year-old with his summer job hunt. Sometimes the job listing states it outright, sometimes he’s told by employees at the business that it’s an unwritten policy and to come back after he turns 18. Not sure how prevalent this issue is but it definitely impacts young people who want to work.

David J. Kupstas
David J. Kupstas
3 years ago

I suppose this is a good place to ask the effect of a higher minimum wage on teen employment. When my family was talking about how our teen neighbor got a job at Chick-fil-A, I said, “Is he making a living wage?” It hit me starkly at that moment how this concept might not make sense for a teen looking to make a few bucks and gain some experience.

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