The summer job: a classic scene from an American kid’s coming-of-age. From June through August each year, high school and college students trade math textbooks for employee handbooks and use their summer vacation to earn money and learn new skills.
This month, I conducted a small and informal survey of my employed peers to ask about their experiences as they worked during the summer.
Everyone I talked to had a different reason for finding a summer job. Of course, kids need money for school and other expenses, but there are other advantages to spending the summer working.
For rising Gig Harbor High School senior Lilly Shaffer, it’s all about the people with whom she interacts.
“I get to spend time with my mom, my sister and amazing children,” she said enthusiastically about at her mom’s business, Rainy Dayz preschool. “I’m slightly obligated to work there, but even if I wasn’t a part of the family, I would choose to work at Rainy Dayz because it is an uplifting place to be.”
GHHS junior Colin Murphy appreciates the “skills and values, such as scheduling, reliability, responsibility and individuality” his job as a server at Peninsula Retirement asks of him.
Some, like 2013 GHHS graduates Sara Meisburger (Gig Harbor Rent-a-Boat) and Tucker Wilde (Subway), were glad to distract themselves from the nervous anticipation of starting college by keeping busy and making a little extra cash.
Fellow recent grads Daniel Arroyo and Cody Myers both cited future references and connections as reasons to work at Harbor Graphics and New Leaf PPS, respectively.
Although their reasons for working were diverse, I found almost all the people I spoke with found their jobs through connections they already had. Shaffer and Myers both work for family-owned companies, and Meisburger, Wilde and Arroyo all found employment or interview opportunities through friends.
In fact, only two summer workers I talked to did not have pre-existing connections to their employers: Colin Murphy, the server at Peninsula Retirement, and Harmony Casey, a checker at Safeway on Point Fosdick Drive who will be a sophomore at Washington State University.
Murphy cast a wide net during his job search.
“I applied to everywhere I could,” he said, “and Peninsula Retirement “(was) the first to call me in for a formal interview.”
Casey also took an assertive approach to finding employment, navigating the store bureaucracy in order to reach the hiring manager to schedule an interview.
In the midst of an increasingly competitive professional job market, the most important skill summer jobs help kids develop might just be how to get a job in the first place.
Knowing how to network starts with family friends, neighbors and church members. Starting to build a resume and collecting references early will strengthen college graduates’ professional job applications. Learning how to seek out and successfully negotiate job interviews gives job applicants a leg up, as well.
The summer job is a stepping stone in a hard-working kid’s upward trajectory, but this month, I’ve learned it’s also a worthwhile experience in and of itself, one that comes with its unique lessons and opportunities.
At the end of the day, it’s the practical skills and personal disciplines that stick after the gas or tuition money is spent, and even teens who sacrifice their summer break for minimum wage agree the experience is well worth it.Anna Mikkelborg, who writes a monthly Youth Connection column, graduated from Gig Harbor High School in June.