When I was a teenager, most of my friends and I, by the time we were 15, had Saturday jobs. If not on a Saturday, these jobs were either after school or during the holidays.
To me it was more about earning extra ‘pennies’. But I built a foundation of skills for work (which is central in my present day-to-day work) including team work, customer care and having responsibilities as an individual employee.
However I am now finding there are fewer opportunities for teenagers to gain vital work experience whilst they are at school. For example the retail industry tends to plan their staffing over a seven day period, resulting in both full and part time staff covering the shifts. As a consequence there are fewer opportunities for teenagers to be given jobs and to acquire essential skills and expertise for the future.
In years gone by, as teenagers we would walk into a shop, even the large retail shops, and make enquires about part- time work. This is how I got my Saturday job in a bakery shop and I can still name the different types of bread and cakes, from your Bloomers to your Belgium Buns!
Even local jobs are now advertised online and some ask a series of questions before they consider asking the individual to an interview. Most of these questions, though relevant, actually act as a barrier for many teenagers. Hence I favour the old approach of young people having the confidence of being able to walk into a shop or company and speak to the manager and ask if they have any suitable part-time jobs.
Now that schools are more academically driven and there is less time for practical skills, it is essential that our young people learn these skills within the workplace. In addition, this taps into their creative and entrepreneurial skills. A friend, when her son was 15, asked his school if they could do a ‘mock interview’ to prepare him for his college interview. Amazingly, they said that they did not have the time to do this!
Yes, most young people in year 10 have a two week work placement in secondary school. This, in my opinion, is not enough to give our young people a sense of the realities of working. There are a number of students who start university life who have never worked at all! Also, very sadly, there is an increasing number of young people who are currently not in employment, education or training (NEET).
We need to encourage children when they become teenagers that working increases their confidence and they can add this onto their CV as real life experience. There needs to be more opportunities for part time work for them such as a Saturday job in a local bakery or butcher shop. My sister started off working a couple of evenings in a local chemist and then she went on to have a part time job in Marks and Spencer, before training as a nurse. I am sure the experience in both these sectors gave her fundamental skills in canadian medicine and patient care.
On the other hand, my son didn’t get his first experience of paid work until he was 17, which was at an annual royal event as a ‘litter collector.’ He has now done this twice and says he will do it again this year. I told him he can state on his CV that he has expertise in ‘grounds maintenance!’ Last year it rained on the days that he did this and he came home soaked right the way through, but he still went back the next day, demonstrating a strong work ethic.
Employees also need to trust teenagers to work for them and value what a young person can bring to their business. I would like to see the retail industry and other sectors prioritising Saturday and part time work for teenagers aged 15 plus and making the application process accessible to the age, stage and ability of the teenager.
In addition, companies should be encouraged, as part of their corporate and social responsibility, to provide more paid and unpaid work experience for teenagers. For example summer schemes could be set up where a range of companies pay teenagers £10:00 per day for doing voluntary work in their companies. This will help give teenagers a sense of purpose and belonging, which currently some of them they do not have. This could also act as a road for some of our teenagers into an apprentice with the company. A few years ago I personally devised training for teenagers to work in summer play schemes with younger children. This was successful and as well as creating an intergenerational feel it gave a sense of purpose for the teenagers involved. Sadly, two years ago, the funding was cut, ending these opportunities.
I suppose the message to our young people should be not to worry about their first job but to see this as the first step in their long term career path. Nor should they think that it needs to be in a prominent business. What matters is that they start somewhere. As the song states: ‘It’s not where you start but where you finish!
So, come on Government, what are you doing to support our teenagers and make a difference to their long term future?
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