Working at a hospital laundry taught me about the world of work
By Brian Kreissl
I am really enjoying a current feature on LinkedIn where well-known business leaders and politicians write posts about their first jobs and how those entry-level roles helped shape their future lives and careers. One of my favourite posts was by U.S. President Barack Obama about his first summer job at a Baskin Robbins ice cream store in Honolulu.
In that particular post, Obama credited summer employment with helping young people get a foothold in the job market and keep them out of trouble. He also used it as a forum to announce a new initiative called the Summer Opportunity Project — something he urged employers to participate in by recruiting, hiring, training and mentoring young people so they can find that all-important first job.
My first ‘real’ job
While I'm hardly a world leader or captain of industry, I thought it might be interesting to write about my first job and how it helped mould and shape my future career. The problem is what would I really consider to be my first “real” job? Would it be my paper routes, my first part-time job as a stockperson at a discount retailer, the job I held for five months between high school and university cutting grass for the city council in Aberdeen, Scotland, or my first job after graduation from university?
While I believe all of those positions have a claim to being what I would call my first real job, the one that really stands out as being character-building at an impressionable age was the part-time job I had working in a hospital laundry. I worked there not only on weekends, but also during most school holidays when I would take over for one of the two people who worked there full-time as they went on vacation.
I held that job from when I was 15 years old to when I was almost 19. Looking back, it was probably a fairly challenging job for a kid that age.
The work was hard, smelly and quite involved — especially on the weekends when I had to do everything by myself. Basically, I had to wash all of the towels and blankets that came in and fill up the six large laundry carts (one for each floor of the hospital) with clean linens ready for Monday morning.
I really had to hustle to get everything done on time, and there was a fair bit to remember every weekend. To pass the time away, I would listen to my portable cassette player, but I was really on my own during the weekends — other than when the cleaning staff would come in and wash and buff the floors in the laundry and during lunch breaks.
The people I worked with (the cleaning staff) were all in their early 20s, but I quite enjoyed socializing with people who were a bit older than me. I would work with and take breaks with people who were even older than that during school vacations.
Full-time work and adult conversation
More than anything, my experience got me working full-time during the summer and exposed to adult conversation from quite a young age. I really feel like that job got me a good start to the world of work before I even finished high school.
In many ways, it wasn’t a typical teenage part-time job, and the money was quite good at the time. I still have recurring dreams about working there to this day and sometimes wake up thinking I still work there. However, that’s impossible because the hospital closed down the laundry and outsourced to a larger facility years ago.
Giving young people a chance
I wouldn’t change my experience for the world, and I actually feel sorry for young people these days who don’t get the opportunity to work part-time and summer jobs during high school and even college or university. But, as I mentioned before, part of the problem relates to employers not giving young people a chance to get that all-important first job and obtain work experience and references while learning firsthand about the value of money and how the world of work actually operates.
While school is the most important thing for teenagers, I really urge parents and employers to give young people the same chance I had to grow and mature before finishing high school. Not everything can be learned in a classroom.