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Summer is for more than sleep: A teacher’s guide to helping students explore job opportunities

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There are plenty of opportunities for students to learn and grow during the summer months, even though they might not be hitting the books. Jobs provide high schoolers with much more than a taste of financial freedom—they also help them develop skills and glean other benefits that extend far past the duration of their seasonal employment.

First and foremost, working teaches responsibility. Figuring out how to handle responsibility is a big part of being an adult—and the number and weight of those responsibilities only increases as time goes on. Getting a jump start on juggling various tasks (in a context that’s outside of school) can help set students up for future success. Jobs also help students develop a strong work ethic and improve their communication skills. Being a dependable employee, taking initiative, working well with others, going above and beyond what’s required and doing all of it while maintaining a positive attitude is part of a strong work ethic—and will benefit students no matter what field they go into. 

Money management skills are also developed through having a job. Earning their own money gives students more perspective, teaching them the valuable lesson of how long it takes to earn and how quickly it can be spent. Having a summer or part-time job during high school also looks good on college applications. It shows initiative and motivation as well as a level of maturity that can help round out an application. 

Getting students to understand these benefits is the first step in adding value to their multi-month break, but opening their eyes to the myriad of opportunities they can pursue is just as important. After all, working at a fast food joint isn’t all they’re qualified to do. Here are a few avenues students can explore:

1.) Clock in-clock out

Lots of students opt to go the more “traditional” route with jobs that typically begin by filling out an application and are often with large chain business. Whether it’s working in food service, retail or at a movie theater or gas station, there are plenty of these jobs to go around. And due to high turnover, they’re almost always available. Most pay minimum wage (or close to it) but many of them also come with perks like employee discounts and flexible schedules.

2.) Explore an industry

Summer jobs are a great way for students to figure out what they like—and what they don’t. Getting a job in the field they’re considering majoring in allows students to try it on for size before having to commit. Internships are a great way to get a foot in the door. Pursuing receptionist and administrative assistant jobs as well as data entry positions are too. 

While these jobs won’t necessarily show students exactly what it would be like to be an accountant, for example, working at an accounting firm would give them a much better idea of how the industry works. Plus, they would benefit from having direct access to people who are already working in the field that interests them. This allows students to potentially pick the brains of these individuals for information and advice. And if they excel in their current positions, students may even gain valuable mentors or other contacts who can help them in the future. 

3.) Work for a cause

Working in jobs where students can do good can also have the added benefit of teaching them about certain industries or areas of the non-profit sector. While doing work for organizations that help others or the planet isn’t generally super lucrative it does have other rewards—like a certain sense of pride and accomplishment—that other jobs don’t. 

As far as paid positions go, students who like working with kids could consider a job as a camp counselor or lifeguard. Those who are interested in history or art could be a tour guide or docent at a museum. Students who enjoy nature could find positions at the zoo or with the National Park Service. And of course, if money isn’t a must-have there are always non-profits and other organizations that need volunteers. Working on service projects, at local nursing homes or doing political campaigning are other options.

4.) Start a business

This route is great for students with an entrepreneurial spirit. More traditional self-run businesses for teens include landscaping, babysitting, dog walking and tutoring, but depending on their interests and skills the sky’s the limit. Many high schoolers have turned their hobbies and passions into lucrative businesses doing things like creating apps, developing podcasts or hosting a YouTube series. 

Other potential endeavors include photography, writing or blogging, computer repair, web design or reselling items online. Starting a business typically takes a lot more time and effort than other options, and therefore may not have the same immediate cash flow as other jobs. But if it’s done well and the conditions are right, being your own boss can also reap much greater rewards. 

Helping students see the value in summer jobs and discussing what kind of positions are out there can go a long way in keeping themselves productive and engaged over the break. After all, with each passing month they get closer to having to spread their wings and leave the comfort of their nests—and you can help them learn to fly.