Character can be a hard thing to define, just as confidence can be a hard thing to build, particularly in young people. But nothing quite defines character or indeed builds confidence than your first job.
Early jobs are unlikely to be well paid, but there’s nothing quite like the sensation a having few hard-earned pennies burning a hole in your pocket, giving you that first sense of freedom when it comes to splashing out with wild abandon; that pair of trainers you’ve had your eye on, some new clothes, or a holiday with your mates. It can contribute towards a horizon-broadening traveling trip, or simply save towards your first car and all the promises of youthful freedom that entails.
Perhaps we should be encouraging more young people to experience the working world at a younger age. Kids seem to grow up more quickly than ever, but are they really building character and learning life lessons along the way? In an age of instant gratification and easy access to myriad forms of entertainment, it can be hard to encourage young people to put themselves out there and dip their toes into the world of work. However, the rewards of our early forays into employment can’t be underestimated.
A job can help give focus, drive and determination. It teaches you the true value of money and can instill a strong work ethic. It gives you a chance to meet people outside your normal circle of friends or school mates, it offers the opportunity to interact with people of different ages, opinions and from different walks of life. It broadens horizons, forces you out of your comfort zone to meet and interact with new people, deal with (at times) demanding customers.
Who knows; you may even have fun whilst you’re at it. A job introduces you to the joys of the work night out, a chance to mingle, to laugh, to realize that you’ve probably got a lot more in common with people than simply spending 8 hours together every day.
There seems to be an impression your first job should be slightly crappy, but that’s not necessarily the case. Generally, the crappier the job, the greater the character building. Jobs needn’t be literally crappy, scooping poop at a dog kennels or mucking out stables are still options if you fancy it, and indeed was the first job of one of Dorset Adventure Park’s fearless leaders.
Thankfully, the litany of truly terrible first time jobs isn’t quite what it used to be. Kids today (in Britain at least) can be thankful that they’re no longer being forced into gainful employment as chimney sweeps, herb-strewers, mudlarks or gong farmers.
Happily, with gong farming resigned to the history books, generally more pleasant tasks await the intrepid early employment adopters; Barista, customer services, working in hospitality, supermarkets, or who knows; even working at Dorset’s premier adventure park? (We’re recruiting, in case you’re wondering). There’s also the option of apprenticeships, but places are often fiercely contested, so you can give yourself an early advantage with potential recruiters through employment elsewhere.
Of course, it’s unlikely that you’ll find your calling straight away, but you never know. Even if an early job acts as an eliminator, confirming it’s not what you thought it was going to be, or not what you want to do in the long term, it can be said to have served a worthwhile purpose. It can help encourage entrepreneurship, teaches discipline, and gives a focus to future endeavors. It also looks good on your CV to prospective future employees, who’ll be impressed by your early willingness to graft, muck-in and get your hands dirty.
My first official job was working in the kitchen of my school boarding house, helping with food prep, and washing up after meals. It meant you ate last, but you got first pick when it came to plating up your dinner, as well as the opportunity to raid the leftovers and pile your plate high (18 fish fingers in a sitting being my record).
Following my kitchen stint I worked in a factory building, boxing and stacking lawnmowers. I served my time as a ‘Wingnut Wally’ (the job everyone avoided that involved sealing wing nuts and bolts into plastic bags along with the mower instructions). It involved 12 hour night shifts, four nights a week, and enabled me to buy my first car, an A-reg Ford Fiesta for £750. Of course, it kept breaking down, and failing to start on cold days when the choke (look it up kids) refused to engage
with the starter motor. But I like to think the character I built as a wingnut wally helped get me through all that time spent shivering in the cold at the roadside awaiting rescue from the breakdown services.
The traditional university route isn’t for everyone, that’s why we should be encouraging more young people to get out there early and broaden their horizons and experiences. After all, are graduates who have never spent a day in employment truly ready to enter the world of work, a decision that could shape the next 40 years of their life?
With two teenage girls myself I understand how hard it can be to encourage kids to take their first steps in the world of work. Young people may be lucky enough to discover their passion at an early age, but for most learning the value of hard work will be a greater reward than any monetary earnings. For that reason, I’ll keep trying to encourage them, whilst generally being met with indifferent shrugs.