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Should students have part-time jobs?

While it’s important to focus on education, some things can’t be taught in a classroom

By Brian Kreissl

I’ve been working since I was 14, when I landed my first part-time job stocking shelves at a local discount retailer.

Actually, I was on the job even before then — I started delivering newspapers when I was about 10.

In high school, I worked part-time and during most school holidays. And at university, I worked all summer and up to three part-time jobs during the school year.

But looking back, I might have done a few things differently. For example, I was delivering the Toronto Star seven days a week from age 12, every day after school and on weekends. That’s just way too much responsibility for a kid that young (probably one of the reasons major daily newspapers now employ adults as carriers).

I really should have taken more time to be a kid and not have been quite so keen to grow up and join the world of work. I missed out on a number of activities because of my paper route (although I did occasionally get someone to fill in for me). I also believe there were times when my part-time jobs interfered with school work to a certain extent.

Yet, I believe I made the right decision in having part-time and summer employment throughout high school and university. I just probably shouldn’t have worked so many hours or started quite so young.

Nevertheless, I turned out all right in the end. I got good grades in high school, finished university and continued my education to the master’s level and beyond.

I’ve only ever been unemployed once in my life — for three months when I returned to Canada after completing my undergraduate education in Scotland. And as most people who know me will confirm, I’ve never been afraid to enjoy myself even when I was working really hard at work or school.

But very few teenagers work these days, which is totally different from my reality growing up in the 1980s. Indeed, for many young people nowadays, it‘s not uncommon for them to have had little to no meaningful paid work experience even by the time they reach their early 20s. This has obvious implications for youth unemployment and underemployment and even for employers.

‘Adultolescence’ and ‘helicopter parenting’

There are a number of causes of this phenomenon including demographic and economic factors, but I believe the most important is the emergence of a new developmental stage psychologists refer to as “adultolescence” and the prevalence of so-called “helicopter parenting.”

Parents today have a tendency to want to “bubble wrap” their children, overschedule their lives with activities and shield them from the realities of life. Heaven forbid they actually go out and get a part-time job.

As a society, we’re definitely delaying the traditional markers of adulthood to much later in life. People are staying in school longer and getting married, having children, buying homes and starting their first jobs later in life.

Part of this is because we’re simply living longer, so there’s less need to rush things. Greater affluence and legislation outlawing child labour has also had an impact. But we’ve now gone too far in treating young adults like children.

I understand the argument that a teenager’s “job” is to do well in school and ultimately get into postsecondary education. Nevertheless, there are things about the workforce you won’t learn in a classroom.

College or university won’t teach you the value of a dollar, how to get along with coworkers or the satisfaction gained from a hard day’s work. It’s also good to have young people buy some of the clothes and personal items they want and at least contribute to the cost of their education.

Having previous paid work experience also allows one to obtain references, leading to jobs with increasing levels of responsibility. Few employers are willing to take a chance on a recent postsecondary graduate with absolutely no paid work experience.

What can employers do?

While this is a societal problem, I think employers share part of the blame too. Rather than filling jobs in a fast food outlet with temporary foreign workers, what’s wrong with taking a chance on some local high school or college students?

And employers need to lighten up with some of their recruitment practices. Why should a candidate for a part-time minimum wage job stocking shelves in a grocery store have to endure three tough behavioural interviews before even meeting with the hiring manager? (I know this happens because I’ve experienced it myself.)

Brian Kreissl is the managing editor of Consult Carswell. He can be reached at brian.kreissl@thomsonreuters.com. For more information, visit www.consultcarswell.com. 

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Brian Kreissl

Brian Kreissl is the product development manager for Thomson Reuters Legal Canada's human resources, OH&S, payroll and records retention products and solutions.
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