For Teens, Traditional Summer Job May Work Better Than Side Gig

Tommy Tindall
By Tommy Tindall 
Edited by Sheri Gordon

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Teens looking for summer work may think “side hustles” and social media are the only ways to make money.

“What we hear from a lot of young people is that they'd rather try to start a business than have traditional jobs,” says Ed Grocholski, chief marketing officer of Junior Achievement USA, an organization that helps young people prepare for career success.

It’s easy to see why teens are excited. Social media influencers appear to be cashing in on their images and hobbies, and side hustle culture makes it look more feasible than ever to market and sell a product or service. But what teens might not realize is that early entrepreneurial endeavors usually take time to take off. Put another way, they don’t provide steady pay.

But traditional jobs do, and for teenagers looking to eventually be their own boss online or off, such in-person work can lay beneficial groundwork. Here are some options for working-age teens and what lessons they could learn on the job.

A positive attitude can lead to learning and earning

Restaurants remain a quintessential employer of students on break.

“We have more than 1.9 million teens on payrolls in restaurants,” says Michelle Korsmo, president and chief executive officer of the National Restaurant Association.

It’s an excellent training ground for young people, she says. From food safety and customer service to problem-solving and time management, employees who want to be challenged will be.

Korsmo says opportunity or need can arise quickly. That could mean moving from host to server or chef to fill an opening, or volunteering to pick up trash in the parking lot when nobody else will.

“Say ‘yes,’ have a great attitude, be willing to learn,” she says. “It doesn't take very long before you gain in responsibilities and in ability to make more money.”

That kind of spirited attitude could be the difference between success and failure for the teen later trying to build a following on social media or start a business.

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Leaning on others takes the pressure off of just you

While a side hustle can be a solitary experience, businesses that hire teens — like the local pool, car wash or grocery store — bring people together.

Dan Horan manages a Wegmans grocery store in Pittsford, New York. He says the young people who come to work for him get a sense for the scale of the operation.

“It takes 650 people to put this place together every single day,” he says. “There’s a lot of teamwork involved in what we do.”

Horan describes the store’s staff as a support system of workers depending on one another and feeling comfortable to raise their hand for help.

“We’re here for what people have going on inside and outside of work,” he says. “It’s a safe place to go.”

Social interaction is good for development and business

Young workers will find communication in the workplace is an essential and organic experience.

The in-person interaction is more important since the pandemic, Grocholski says. “Being around people, being in a team environment builds an entire skill set that frankly is kind of by the wayside, and is really critical for young people to achieve their potential.”

Aagna Patel, a former Junior Achievement member and now a college student in Texas, went to work as an accounting intern at a manufacturing firm in Houston the summer after her senior year of high school. She saw it as an opportunity to learn from the life experience of her teammates.

Patel's colleagues ranged in age from 30 to over 60. “You learn from every single person around you, whether that's just from their experience or their experience with their family and kids, or their actual work career experience,” she says.

The communication skills could come in handy for future customers.

Patel, who would like to be her own boss someday, says you learn how to be a people person and approachable. “I think that's really important as an entrepreneur because you never know where there is an opportunity.”

Hard work pays off, literally

A regular paycheck can feel like freedom to a teen. Kids who skip the day job and try to start with something not so steady may delay the financial gratification.

Patel says her first paycheck sparked gratitude. “It really reminds you that your parents, or whoever is providing in your household, they really do have to work a lot to bring money to the table and to be able to provide you with all of the things that you have,” she says.

Horan says he sees teen workers figure out how to balance time and money. “We have a lot of kids that want to pick up more hours and get more hours because they're saving for something that's important to them.”

Parents can help teens in getting their first paychecks by encouraging them to open a checking account and explore a debit or credit card. It’s never too early to have “the talk.” You know, the one about spending less than you make and avoiding costly credit card interest. It’s a lesson parents can provide teens, along with the reassurance that a traditional summer job now doesn’t mean they can’t monetize their hobby later.

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