November 6, 2016
This is part of the Ready NWI and First Job series — an initiative of the Youth Employment Council of the Northwest Indiana Workforce Board. The series reviews the story behind some of Region leaders’ and residents’ first jobs.
Katie Eaton is the economic development manager for the Michigan City Economic Development Corporation
What was your first job as a teen?
I served up ice cream at the Dairy Queen in Michigan City. This was the summer of 1995. It was a valuable experience as I learned I did not enjoy working with food.
Where did you work the following summer?
I accepted a position at Toys R Us. This was a better fit for me as I held that job for seven years, including the time while I attended college at Purdue North Central. I worked about 15 to 20 hours a week. My schedule included time after school and on weekends. Once I got into college, I worked full time.
What did you earn?
Initially, I was paid the minimum wage, which was $4.75 an hour. But I also was awarded several raises based on performance during my seven years with Toys R Us. I saved a lot of my money to help with the purchase of my first car, and later I used the money to pay for college. Toys R Us also offered partial college tuition reimbursement. It was wonderful because I was able to finish college debt free, which is not the case for many students.
What did you like about the job?
I enjoyed the interaction with the customers, especially the kids. I got to learn so many stories about people and families. I saw children picking out a toy because they had just gotten straight A’s on a report card, grandparents excited to buy baby items for their first grandchild and numerous children celebrating birthdays with the purchase of a new toy. It was fun to meet so many people and to make friends with the customers, especially those who came in on a regular basis.
What did you not like about your work?
Being on my feet all day was exhausting at times. During the busy holiday season, it was difficult to find a few minutes to take a break.
I learned to pay attention to details when handling money as a cashier. I learned about sales and customer service when interacting with customers. I learned a lot about teamwork. We all worked together to make the store look great at the end of the day. I learned that I was good at all of these skills, but working at this job helped me improve on them even more.
What advice do you have for a young person about to start his or her first job?
My advice is to listen to the people around you. You can learn from everyone you work with. Also, take initiative. Don’t wait for someone to tell you what to do. Look around, and find the work that needs to be done. And if you don’t know what to do, ask.
What advice do you have for employers that hire youth?
I think every employer that is hiring youth has to be flexible and patient. The payoff to employers is improvement in their retention rate. It was important that I had an employer who could work around my school schedule. Retailers are especially great for this because they have more hours to work with in a business day.
The READY NWI partnership supports the unique aspects of community, school, and student, and embraces a commitment to regional thinking and acting in order to ensure prosperity by meeting the skill and education needs of employers throughout Northwest Indiana.