Lessons From My Summer Job

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Area college students have returned home in search of a summer employment opportunity. Over the next few weeks, high school students will join them as their school year comes to a close.

The youth labor force grows sharply this time each year. In addition to large numbers of high school and college students searching for summer jobs, many graduates enter the labor market to look for or begin permanent employment.

Employers stand ready to welcome those young people to the workforce. Last year, that youth labor force grew by 2.6 million to a total of 23.1 million. About 60.1 percent of all youth ages sixteen to twenty-four worked last summer. That number has held fairly steady since July 2010, after trending downward for the prior two decades.

This is an important trend to follow and should meant good things long term for employers in search of key contributors. Young people will learn some critical lessons about work that they just can’t pick up in the classroom during these temporary summer assignments. Those lessons should follow then through their working life. My early jobs taught me many valuable lessons.

My earliest memory of working was mowing grass in the neighborhood. I was a budding entrepreneur, anxious to convince my neighbors that their life would be easier if they just hired me. That experience taught me important lessons about responsibility and about how important it was to give my best effort. Some of my clients were demanding, I learned a lot about meeting their expectations.

I moved away from the green grass and sunshine to a lucrative opportunity at a grocery store. There they entrusted me with the best of all jobs, cleaning the meat room after a busy day of cutting and processing meat. I quickly learned that in you won’t love all jobs, but you have to be willing to do whatever the company needs.

I also learned that sometimes the least glamorous, lowest paid, dirty jobs can sometimes be the most important. If I didn’t do my job effectively, the grocery doesn’t pass the health test and can’t sell meat. One slip up, and it would be hard for the business to recover. I learned to take pride in my work and to make sure that I did a thorough job each time.

As exciting as that position was, I moved on to a position in a factory and later a role as a clerk in a retail store. I learned more about working in teams, interacting with people different than me, the importance of being on time and showing up each time I was scheduled, interacting with customers, and solving problems.

Each of those roles also helped me better understand what I was good at as well as understanding what jobs I didn’t ultimately want to do for a living.   

Many of you had similar experiences, some of you did babysitting, some of you worked at a retail establishment or restaurant. Others of you scooped ice cream, bagged groceries, or asked you if you want “fry’s” with that. No matter what you did, those experiences helped shape who you were and the kind of employee you would become.

The real-world experience will teach you things that are difficult to teach in a classroom. If you are a parent, encourage your son or daughter to find some of those opportunities. If you are an employer, make sure you are giving young people in our community an opportunity to learn some of those key life lessons they can learn at your place of business. Long term, we’ll all benefit.

Jeff Rea is chief executive officer of the South Bend Regional Chamber of Commerce.

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