In this post, the first of three on the topic of training and summer jobs, we explore some of the short- and long-term benefits of summer jobs and how to choose one with the greatest training benefits.
Summer Jobs: Training for the Future, Part 1More often than not, training happens on the job. As a result, whether or not one realizes it, summer jobs are a source of training. While most young people are eager to land a summer job that will provide them with work experience in a field they hope to enter down the line, it is important to bear in mind that this is not always possible or even desirable. A summer job in an industry entirely unrelated to one’s dream career can in the long run prove just as valuable. Why? Because training is not simply about acquiring specific skills (e.g., film production, computer programming or communications design). Training is also about acquiring broader skills, such as customer service, collaboration, team building or leadership skills, which are transferrable across industries and positions. In other words, whether you’re working on a film set or in an ice cream truck, there are invaluable training take-aways.

Short- and Long-term Training Gains

It may sound like a cliché but summer jobs are one way that people learn how to take responsibility for their actions. Knowing that sleeping in and being late holds the potential to harm more than oneself is a valuable lesson. While it may sound basic, in reality, everyone learns this at some point in his or her work life.

Customer Service Skills
At some point, we all have to learn that it is sometimes important to set our personal preferences and feelings aside, even when faced with unpleasant individuals. Summer jobs are a low-stakes way to learn the customer service skills required to survive in nearly any work environment. After all, even in careers where customer service is not a factor, knowing how to deal with unpleasant coworkers and clients is a must.

While collaboration skills are sometimes acquired in one’s formal education, collaborating on projects in the workplace enables young people to experience collaboration with real stakes rather than in a simulated environment. Depending on the job, one may collaborate on something as simple as redesigning a window display or as complex as redesigning a web portal. Whatever the task, the skills acquired by working on a team are skills that can be transferred to any future job.

Leadership has to begin somewhere and summer jobs are often the first time that young people have an opportunity to assume a leadership role. Whether it’s working as a camp counselor and taking responsibility for a cabin full of seven-year old boys, or working as an assistant or part-time manager for a small retail outlet, there are opportunities for leadership growth.

Building Professional Networks
One might be surprised, but some professions ask for personal and professional references stretching back over a period of a several years and even a decade. For example, applicants to medical school are frequently asked to provide dozens of references that go back to high school. Summer jobs are frequently where one begins building up these professional networks.

Optimizing Summer Work Experiences

While pursuing a summer job in a sector where one hopes to eventually work is important, especially in the case of high school students, the upshot of a summer job often has less to do with the nature of the job and more to do with the level of training and support provided by the employer. Students looking for summer jobs (and their parents) are well advised to consider what a job has to offer at the level of training and professionalization, regardless of the sector. Among other questions, young people looking for summer work might ask themselves:

• Does the employer offer training? If so, is the training a simple one-day orientation, or will it be ongoing throughout the summer?
• What skills will I acquire? For example, will the job provide an opportunity to learn or enhance my knowledge of a specific software program or provide me with an opportunity to improve my public speaking skills?
• Can skills acquired on this job be transferred to future jobs?
• Is there any potential to make professional connections?
• Does the organization offer room for growth? If I enjoy the position and do well, can I return next summer in a more challenging role?