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Your High Schooler Should Be Working — But Not for the Money

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Think back to your days as a high school student (oh my gosh, the ’90s!). Did you have a summer job? If you're anything like me, you did, and you hoped to use some of that money to knock out some looming college fees.

Would that strategy work now? Not a chance. The price of college is astronomical. Few work opportunities would let 17- to 22-year-olds actually make enough money to put dents in their tuition. Hourly entry-level work just won't cut it. A tuition bill as high as $50,000 a year won't compel someone to work for $12 an hour.

This leaves parents with an interesting quandary: Why should high schoolers get a job if it won't pay for college?

The answer: experience.

The money might not be the driving force. But what's 100 percent relevant is the skill set, discipline, and work ethic that a teen develops from working during high school. In "The Hard Truth About Soft Skills," Fortune 500 consultant Peggy Klaus writes, "Soft skills get little respect but will make or break your career."

She's talking about soft skills like communication, public speaking, sharing ideas, listening, learning and growing, managing people, negotiating, and persevering. I'm certain you could point me to co-workers of your own (in the present day) who could use more of these. Such skills are people-dependent. Team-dependent. They're involved in interactions typical in a workplace environment, and they're not skills kids can learn from books.

As a parent myself, my biggest fear is that I'm ill-equipping my children for reality. If your child isn’t spending the summer in a position that will force him out of his comfort zone, it'll come at the cost of his future. And the price is heavy: opportunities for employment, self-confidence, and self-reliance. There's nothing wrong with children living in the basement until they're 30. But it's not a dream of mine (or my wife's).

Our children need to learn to think critically, live independently, and survive on their own — and they won't get those skills through an internship at an uncle's company or by volunteering five hours a week.

Instead, let's encourage our kids to pursue jobs in one of these three fields:

• Retail: Students need the experience of working with people — of actually looking other humans in the eyes. Where better to get that experience than in a retail position? Whether it's at a local clothing store, a grocery store, or even a Walmart, a job that requires teens interact with customers can be extremely beneficial for learning those essential soft skills. Retail workers also get the opportunity to potentially make someone's day through a helpful and positive interaction. Who doesn't love that feeling?

• Call centers: In my professional opinion, call centers are probably some of the hardest places on the planet to work. Heck, I'd have a hard time working at a call center. But in rural areas where call centers are prevalent, it's quite the opportunity. Students there get stable hours during which they can learn responsibility, reliability, how to treat customers — and how to handle rejection. Turnover at call centers might be high, but the confidence and resilience that students can learn in just one summer at a call center is worth tackling the challenging work.

• Direct sales: A direct sales job combines the best of the retail and call center worlds. Teens and young adults working in direct sales learn to interact with customers, to persuade potential buyers, to follow sales scripts, and to handle rejection — but they don't have to deal with the rudeness rampant in retail and call center environments. Plus, in direct sales, if your children don't work, they don't make money. If they want to get paid, they have to learn to manage their time and build a real work ethic.

Forget paying for college: We all know no teen with a summer job can foot that bill. But when it comes time for young adults to find jobs after graduation, they need to be able to provide value to the marketplace. That means they need to get experience working for an actual business.

Everything's different when a transactional work relationship develops between an employer and employee. When a company is willing to spend money to hire your child, he starts to truly build the kinds of skills that will last far longer than a summer job.

Mike Monroe is a Christian, husband, dad, marketer, and wannabe athlete. Mike started working at Vector Marketing in 2000 as a student at Boston College. He wanted to stick out from the crowd and develop himself professionally. Nearly two decades later, that goal hasn't changed. Learn more at

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