There’s a line of reasoning that young people shouldn’t work during their school years. They should concentrate their full efforts on preparing themselves to work in their chosen fields through school itself, and to not compromise that preparation by working in unrelated jobs to pay current expenses.
But there are excellent reasons why working during the school years will help to prepare the student for employment after graduation, in addition to providing much needed financial resources along the way.
To help pay for their own expenses and even their educations
This is the most basic reason for a teen or college student to work. By paying at least some of their personal expenses and at least some of their school costs they’re learning responsibility in the most basic way.
If it’s a college student, working is also a way of reducing reliance on student loans. The student may find working to be a burden during their school years, but once they get out and have less debt they’ll feel a lot better about having worked, and be able to get a faster start coming out of the graduation gate as a result.
To make the work-equals-money connection
The sooner a young person connects money to work the better they’ll be on so many fronts. Once that connection is made, he begins to think of- and pursue- ways to earn more money, and that’s the beginning of motivation.
Most jobs aren’t art forms—they’re a way to make a living primarily. It’s important to do work that you like to do for sure, but in those times when you’re just not feeling it, working for money can keep you going, and even keep you going forward.
To learn money management skills
You can give a kid money to manage or even a credit card, but nothing teaches money management quite the way spending your own money does. Money that you have to earn with your own time and effort has a way of feeling a lot more like their own money, and that’s the incentive for proper management.
The earlier a person learns how to manage money, the deeper it takes root and the greater the benefit. In addition, learning proper money management during high school is a great way to have it mastered before going to college, when squeezing the most out of every dollar will become more important than ever.
To develop workplace skills
High school and college will teach a young person a lot of things, but one category they won’t teach is workplace skills. These aren’t so much specific job skills as much as learning how to function in a workplace itself. There’s a way that you carry on in school that works in an academic environment, and the one that takes place on a job that’s very different.
For example, in school success is all about getting good grades on tests and major assignments. In a job situation, it’s all about processes—how you get from Point A of an assignment to Point B, and to do so in the most efficient and customer friendly manner. It’s also about taking authority, which once again is very different in a job than a classroom. Schools can be at least somewhat democratic—you can skip a class or miss an assignment—but do that on a job and you’ll be out the door.
Work is largely about efficiency, punctuality, taking authority and getting along with others; those are important in school, but not to the degree that they are on a job. And the only way to truly learn them is by having a job.
To have some kind of work experience before starting a career
In today’s competitive job market, having some work experience could mean the difference between graduating with a career-type job offer and spending months of unemployment afterward. This can be true even if after school employment isn’t related to the college major. A future employer might take a more positive view of the graduate who worked and paid at least part of his or her education costs than the one who didn’t.
The student who has held one or more jobs during high school and college years might be viewed as being more responsible, having more realistic expectations, working with others and taking authority. And even if the jobs aren’t related to the position the graduate is applying for, a potential employer may prefer the fact that there are actual work related references to check into.
Did you—or do you now—work while you attend(ed) school? In the long run, do you think it helped you?
Kevin Mercadante is professional personal finance blogger, and the owner of his own personal finance blog, OutOfYourRut.com. He has backgrounds in both accounting and the mortgage industry. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and two teenage kids and can be followed on Twitter at @OutOfYourRut.