Summer jobs have always been important ways for young people to get started in the labour market. However the types of work opportunities out there, and their availability, are drastically changing. This is often to the detriment of young people.
I spent a number of my summers working as a chemist's boy in a couple of pharmacies in my home town of Inverness. I learned how to control stock, assist in dispensing prescriptions, serve customers, cash up a till, and bank the takings as well as more mundane tasks such as cleaning the shop windows, clearing up breakages and delivering medicine. Perhaps more than any of these tasks, I learned about people: working for them and with them. This lesson has travelled with me in my working life.
The jobs we do in the summer don’t confine us to dead-end jobs; they broaden our experiences and skills. Even Barack Obama scooped ice cream when he was in high school.
Part-time and summer work jobs are extremely important for young people to demonstrate that they have transferable skills. When we recruit, it doesn’t always matter that our youngest recruits don’t have direct professional experience. It would be tough of us to expect them to. But we do need young people with the right attitude, willingness to work and experience of the workplace generally.
Changing summer jobs
Yet opportunities for young people to gain experience of the workplace are declining. The recently published UKCES report, Precarious Futures? Youth employment in an international context, shows that recent changes in the labour market disadvantage young people unequally.
The first change affecting young people is that the jobs they usually go into are decreasing. For example, sales, retail and elementary occupations provide almost half of all employment for young people, but they decreased over the past five years. Instead, much of the growth in employment brought about by economic recovery has been in managerial, professional and technical roles which younger people are less likely to access.
Secondly, the once-abundant summer job seems to be harder and harder to find. Few employers are recruiting directly from education (27%); instead they are looking for more experienced candidates. Part-time jobs in the occupations young people depend on are predicted to decrease, despite part-time jobs increasing overall.
Many young people are noticing this scarcity, and argue that it is becoming increasingly difficult to find jobs to accompany their studies. A great blog in The Guardian last week makes this point strongly, highlighting that such jobs are few and far between.
Summer jobs in the future
The labour market will continue to change, with many implications for the type of work available to young people. The rising use of technology and increased automation will mean that there are fewer jobs in customer service and administration.
There will also be greater insecurity of employment, and people will change jobs more often and develop portfolios of project based work. This means that people will need to be much better at transferring skills from one type of work to another.
Making summer jobs work for young people
As the labour market continues to change, employers must make sure their recruitment practices accommodate the needs of young people. Part-time work needs to become part of sustainable learning pathways, allowing young people to progress in their careers. This will help employers plan for the future and ensure that young people can meet anticipated skills needs.
Young people need more and better opportunities to experience the workplace. Now that it’s summer I encourage businesses, across all sizes and sectors, to offer summer opportunities to young people. This could mean full or part-time jobs, a spell of work experience, or even a mentoring opportunity. A small job could make a big difference by giving young people experience of the workplace.