This is the first in a series of Ready NWI columns in the First Job series — an initiative of the Youth Employment Council of the Northwest Indiana Workforce Board. The series will review the story behind some of Region leaders’ and residents’ first jobs.
When you are young, your first job experiences prompt excitement, purpose and the confidence to achieve. Do you remember your first job and what you learned from it? Thank goodness for the person who took a chance and believed in you enough to say “you’re hired.”
Many variables have made it more difficult for young people to capture those initial work opportunities. The youths of our region are struggling to even get a summer work experience so they are able to develop the skills to pursue their goals, dreams and long-term economic opportunities. According to the Department of Labor, last year only 52 percent of youth between the ages of 16 and 24 were employed during July.
The Northwest Indiana Workforce Board’s Youth Employment Council is calling upon employers to hire a youth in need of employment.
Our goal is to help create pathways to employment and self-sufficiency for our young people, contributing to building a stronger, smarter, work-ready workforce and community. Here’s a look at the details behind my first job:
What was my first job?
My first job as a teen was at the Ben Franklin five-and-dime variety store in the small southern Illinois town of Sesser. I was the stock boy and maintenance manager, meaning I took out the garbage. I worked every day after school and on Saturdays. It was part-time work ranging from 30 minutes to two hours. I made $2 a week.
I started when I was in eighth grade and continued through my senior year in high school.
How did I get the job?
My aunt and uncle owned the store. They lost their only son in an automobile accident when he was eighteen. I became their “replacement” son.
Do I remember my co-workers?
Absolutely. They loved me and taught me so much about merchandising, customer service, displaying and teamwork. I was always willing to help in any way. At the end of the day, I would always ask: “Do you need anything else before I leave?”
What did I like about the job?
My aunt and uncle and co-workers counted on me to show up every day and do my job with little instruction. They trusted that I was honest and was doing what was best for the business.
But the dime-store job was not the first time I made money.
During the summer, my brother and I would mow 20 yards every week. I started when I was 11 or 12. We got paid a dollar for every lot. It was miserable some days, as the temperature in southern Illinois would often reach 100 degrees, and the humidity was awful.
Where did I develop this strong work ethic?
From my dad. He was an amazing person. He held a variety of jobs during his lifetime: mail clerk, bank examiner and bank president. He went back to college in his late 20s and was highly involved in a number of civic and community roles.
What advice do I have for young people?
The No. 1 leadership lesson I teach is to “show up.” You can’t learn anything if you don’t show up. When adults see that you have a very strong work ethic, they know they have hired someone who is responsible, someone they can trust.
How does a teen find work when jobs are scarce?
I would encourage them to approach an employer or any adult they might know and find out what tasks or duties they might need help in completing. I believe every employer has odd jobs they would love to tackle but never do. It may be a simple task like cleaning out an attic or basement.
Why do I believe young people should hold a job?
I believe it is important because it helps instill good habits and the intrinsic feeling of a job well done. Youth are the building blocks of our economy. They are our future workforce.
What advice do I have for employers that hire youth?
Give ‘em a chance. Employers have many unfilled tasks that a young person can complete for them. And don’t be afraid of sharing the lessons you’ve learned along the way.