Beyond spending money: Teens with jobs are able to mature as people as they learn important life management skills and gain valuable insights into the world before they take their next steps
Grade school: learn study skills, time management and teamwork in preparation for high school. High school: get involved in AP classes, sports and volunteer organizations to get into college. College: apply for study abroad, research opportunities and internships to practice for the application that really matters- a job. So if it takes years to prepare for getting a job and teens today are conditioned to be prepared at all costs, why are so few high school students getting a jump on their education and looking for work?
The Labor Department recently reported that as of July 2013, only eight percent of American teenagers were looking for a job. In 1979, when many teenagers’ parents were in high school, roughly 70 percent of teenagers were employed or were seeking employment. While many students feel they do not have time to work and keep up with academics and extracurriculars, other Minnehaha students and graduates still find time to work part-time jobs to make money and take responsibility.
John Challenger, a chief executive at Challenger, Gray, and Christmas (a career transitioning firm) said that the decline of teenagers in the workforce has been due to social changes.
“It is not that teens are lazy,” Challenger said. “Between homework, academic clubs, sports teams and other activities, many of which are aimed at gaining a competitive edge in college admissions, there is little time left for traditional employment.”
“The main reason I chose to work [only during the summer] was because I wanted experience and money,” said senior Max Thompson, who worked at Subway over the summer. “During the school year [though], there simply isn’t enough time with my extracurriculars and course load.”
So if teenagers are busier and have so much else to worry about to get into college, what is the value of getting a job?
Not surprisingly, many teens decide to get a job to cover expenses and to have cash.
“I [got] a job to have extra money,” said senior Kathryn Doty, a sales associate at American Eagle Outfitters, “because my parents don’t pay for a lot of things.”
Many stores look to hire during the holiday season, which can lead to permanent positions. Another optimal time for teenagers to search for jobs is near the end of the summer when college students go back to school.
“I started working this summer,” said junior Hazen Mayo, a sales associate at Parc Boutique. “I just decided that I needed some money.”
Senior Justin Ball started working to fund his extracurriculars.
“I needed gas money, and I needed money for a lot of juniors [hockey] camps [that] I’m going to be doing,” said Ball, a goalie specialist at Hockey Giant and Minnehaha’s goalie. “I’ve grown up around hockey all my life and I love it, so being around goalie gear is fun.”
Making money is undoubtedly a vital aspect of getting a job, but teenagers also start working to learn time management and accountability.
“The most important thing I’ve learned is having time that isn’t your own,” said Doty. “Every weekend, I know that on Saturday and Sunday I’m going to have to work, so I have to plan my weekend around my work schedule. The flexibility that my weekends used to [have] is no longer there.”
Minnehaha parent Visala Goswitz (mother of Meera, ’11, and senior Kiran) encouraged her children to work during high school to learn accountability.
“[Having a job] helps develop skills that are not necessarily part of the regular high school experience,” said Visala. “It is useful to learn to interact with adults in an employer, employee relationship. Having a job [also] helps kids be responsible and learn to prioritize their commitments.”
“I’ve invested a lot of the money I’ve made in mutual funds,” said Kiran, a grocery bagger at Lunds. “It’s taught me about keeping my money safe. I also have to keep up with my work schedule and manage my time so I can still get all my homework done.”
While having a job certainly teaches valuable life skills, it also doesn’t hurt the college application process.
Enhancing college applications
Listing job experience can certainly enhance college applications, but is most helpful when the student elaborates on what they’ve learned from working. College counselor Richard Harris said that simply putting a job on the application may not have a major impact, but the ability to demonstrate its significance does.
“It can [boost an application] if a student can demonstrate what they learned in the experience,” said Harris. “There’s an idea that a job might be more important than an extracurricular activity, but if you’re working a ten-hour-per-week job, just putting it in your college application may not mean much. But if you’re able to write about who you interacted with and why it was important to you, it could matter in the process.”
College applications are certainly important, but perhaps an even more valuable aspect of working as a teenager is adjusting to working with adults.
Working with adults
Chamberlain, a sales associate at American Eagle like Doty, found that working with adults has caused her to mature.
“Our managers are grown adults, and they do this for a living,” said Chamberlain. “They take their jobs really seriously, and we’re just teenagers. You’re working with adults and they’re counting on you, so you can’t just say ‘I’d rather have a sleepover with a friend.'”
Mayo feels added pressure because she works for a small business and knows her boss personally.
“It’s such a small boutique that every sale means a lot to keep the business going,” said Mayo. “We’re only one store, not a large chain. Since the community of Northeast Minneapolis is so tight knit [and] we have to know the names of and be friends with the regular customers, the experience really has to be personal and unique. I think this puts a different kind of pressure on the employees to really make connections in order to create a good reputation and sales.”
Regardless of whether a teenager works for a small business or a large corporation, the daily interactions they have with their employers, co-workers and customers teach them the importance of accountability. Most high school students do not get jobs where they hope to work for the rest of their lives, but job experience at any level can undoubtedly factor into success at future workplaces.