Summer Jobs: You Never Know What Skills You’ll Learn

The other day, the 10 Minute Novelist tweeted that her two teenage daughters had landed summer jobs that were local–and in their fields.

“They have fields?” I replied. (They’re still in high school.)

Turns out that they’d gotten jobs that were related to their career aspirations. And that’s great! But looking back at the summer jobs I held through high school, college and a my first year teaching, I realize it wasn’t so important to work “in my field.” Lessons and skills I learned in these jobs, regardless of the field, have been useful over the years.

Honestly, I was in those jobs for the paychecks (except the summer-camp job which barely paid anything). The life skills were a bonus I appreciated much later.

The library where I worked was in a remodeled home in town. It's since moved to the new municipal building. Photo source: Google Earth.
The library where I worked was in a remodeled home in town. It’s since moved to the new municipal building. Photo source: Google Earth.

LIBRARY

Not surprisingly, on this job I developed better research skills. I also learned the truth of the adage, “do what you love and the money will follow.” I started at the library as a volunteer and they eventually found money in the budget to keep me.

BAKERY

I didn’t bake anything here; I worked behind the counter. I memorized all the prices and learned to keep orders in my head (and even to add up the bill in my head); anything to move customers out quickly during busy hours. On a weekend or holiday morning in a bakery, speed was essential.

In the bakery I also learned the value of cleaning as you go and using any few minutes of no-customer time to refill bins of bread and rolls, wipe down counters and sweep the floor. Doing what needed to be done when I saw that it needed to be done meant I didn’t have to stay after my shift to finish the work.

INVENTORY CONTROL/DELIVERIES

Never underestimate the importance of clear handwriting and the ability to take notes quickly. Those skills were hugely valuable on that job.

WAREHOUSE

The only summer job I ever quit before summer was over. I finish what I start, but working in a non-air-conditioned warehouse in summer in New Jersey was awful. I lasted less than four weeks. I was “picking and packing” socks for a mail-order clothing business. We had to track how many packages we sent down the conveyor belt in an hour and best that number on a regular basis. We were also continuously under suspicion of stealing, so our handbags were inspected each day when we left. And despite the awful heat, we had to wear long pants.

At that job I learned that constant suspicion was not a sign of a healthy working environment, and that if I was going to get in trouble for needing a bathroom break, minimum wage wasn’t worth it.

PARTS DEPARTMENT

I can trace my tendency to count as I go to this job. If I’m baking cookies, for example, I’ll count them as I put them on the baking sheet. Working in the parts department of a company that built computers for Navy sonar, I spent 8 hours a day counting tiny little screws, washers, capacitors and circuit boards. Counting as I go has come in handy while cooking, both for recipe-writing purposes and for nutrition calculation.

STATIONERY STORE

I’m not sure how much I learned here, other than trivia regarding numbers for envelope sizes. This job did play a part in my developing office-supply addiction, however!

SUMMER CAMP

As the business manager of a Girl Scout camp one summer, I did everything from running the camp store to running all the errands and running injured campers to the hospital (there’s a reason for the rule against running in camp. I transported more kids with ankle injuries because they broke that rule and tripped over tree roots…) I learned how to pump gas (the camp was in New York State), how to drive a minivan and how to check the toes on an injured camper’s Ace-wrapped foot while driving to make sure her bandage wasn’t wrapped too tightly.

You never know when some skill or bit of knowledge learned on a summer job will come in handy later. It’s not where you work all summer that counts, but what you learn while you’re there.

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