Early Employment, Lasting Dividends

Summer jobs. What memories come flooding back when you see those words and recall experiences from your teen years and early 20s? Your summer job might have been a continuation of part-time work you did during the school year, but there’s something about an entire summer’s worth of concentrated work that outlives the season itself.

You might be re-experiencing this reality right now as a parent. I am. Without naming names, some of my kids grasp the concept of reporting to work at a given time, listening to the boss, being part of a team and knowing their role. And some, well, are still wrestling with the concepts. Regardless, I’m proud of all of them because they’re all learning, each in his or her own way.

And isn’t learning the whole point? Years ago, as a busboy at chain restaurants, I quickly learned that when the franchise owner is there—not just a shift manager—the expectations are even higher. The owner scrutinizes everything. Every dime is vital. There’s a right way and a wrong way to wipe down tables. And I heard about it and stepped up my game.

Before that, I had a paper route, one of the best business models ever. In those years, carriers reported to district managers and didn’t just have to deliver the newspaper intact and on-time. Back then, we also had to collect money from our customers in order to pay ourselves back from buying the papers in the first place. Frankly, I was terrible at collecting and dreaded it. But what I discovered is my 8-year-old sister—very focused on having her own money to buy candy—charmed everyone she met. She was an ace at collecting, so I outsourced it to her and paid her in the incremental tips that suddenly starting flowing in.

In your early years, what you’re learning in the most mundane of work settings can serve you well for a lifetime. It’s another step on the path of becoming a knowledge worker in all dimensions, a role I believe is vital to protecting and fueling continued economic growth in the United States.

These days, I see resumes listing internships at large corporations in specific fields of interest and academic pursuit, and I wonder what kind of perspective a young person gets in a bureaucracy without a lot of autonomous decision-making. Is the experience as immediate and direct as having to think on your feet and adjust to potentially unusual workplace demands? I hope so.

To all the young people out there this summer working and learning, keep doing what you’re doing and take it all in. A lot of companies like Borden are looking forward to meeting you down the road and bringing you on board as a valued team member. We can swap stories about our early summer jobs and learn from each other. Until then, make the most of the summer of 2019.