Our school system, with long summers away from the books, is based on an agricultural model where most families needed kids home to help with the work of actually running a farm. Today, there are about two million farms in the U.S, according to the EPA. Some of those farms are huge, requiring plenty of family labor (as well as hiring help), but not to the point that most kids go to work on a farm when summer rolls around.
I didn’t grow up knowing this, since my family doesn’t farm, but I did not get long lazy summers with nothing to do either. Even before I hit high school and could look for a job on my own, I worked for various family members in the summer time. One year, I was a mother’s helper to one of my aunts with younger kids. Another year, I helped a relative do a major inventory and move her store. I worked at both of my parents’ businesses.
I had some good times too, but in my mind, summer was a time to work. That wasn’t the experience that many of my friends had, though. Even in high school and college, I had plenty of friends for whom the summertime was a chance to travel, to study up for a standardized test and to generally relax. It’s certainly appealing, but there’s also a lot of value in all those summer jobs I had.
The Value of Working All Summer
From a worker’s point of view, the point of having a job is to get money. A summer job does bring in a little cash, although the types of jobs most students can land seasonally aren’t going to provide a huge income. But there are other benefits too, even if they aren’t actually obvious to someone who feels like she’s giving up her summer to slave away.
The work experience: A summer job makes it easier to get other jobs later on, like after graduation. Even one summer flipping burgers can make a candidate more appealing for an employer because it’s proof that the applicant can take orders from someone else and handle the responsibilities of being employed.
The network: Especially when the summer worker in question lands a job with someone who isn’t related, she gets a head start on building up a personal network. And, even in high school or college, a personal network is valuable — it can make for great letters of recommendation for a college application or an in for landing the ideal internship.
The value of money: It might seem trite to say this, but it is true. The value of a dollar that you had to work for is very different from the value of a dollar that is given to you. A person’s spending habits change when they associate each dollar in their pocket with the amount of time it takes to earn that money.
Summer Jobs Offer a Head Start
Someone who worked summer jobs is, simply put, better equipped to be independent than someone who makes it all the way through school without ever working for someone else. It’s all well and good to focus on studying, but there are plenty of college graduates that need hand-holding to get through the job hunt after school. There’s plenty of value of figuring out the nuts and bolts of chasing down a job — and figuring out how to show up on time, work for someone else and all those details — when the only thing at stake is a summer job.
The knowledge that you’re capable of going out and getting a job, even if it isn’t the best job in the world, is reassuring. Even if things aren’t going as well as you might hope, it means that you’ve got a fall back plan — you know that you can get hired and hold a job at that level, no matter what.
Confidence is just as important a benefit of working a summer job as whatever money comes out of it. The same goes for independence and even the mechanics of actually working that come with every summer job out there. It can seem like a favor — perhaps even the best thing that a family can do — to keep a high school student or a college student from needing to work. But the truth of the matter is that there are opportunities that go along with summer jobs that just don’t come about when someone spends a summer relaxing or even studying.
David’s Note: I remember frying fish at a fish and chips fast food restaurant one summer very clearly. The shifts were 10 hours a day with non stop action. Though I remember the experience as being quite fun with lots of memories that I will cherish forever, I also remember the ride home looking out the window on the last day of work and thinking to myself: “If I don’t do well in school, I will be stuck doing this for the rest of my life.” I can’t say for sure how much of an effect that summer job has had on my life, but I think about that particular moment from time to time, and it provides incredible motivation.
Summer jobs are awesome, not only because you get paid but it also lets you do work that you otherwise might not have a chance to experience. I cherish all the friendships through the various summer jobs that I’ve worked at and reflecting on those times often gives me great perspective and appreciation for not only the business I was able to built thus far but also how incredibly luck I have been.
The benefits of summers jobs weren’t apparent to me back then, but working for the few months through those school years turned out to help me much more than the paychecks that I got during those times.