The idyllic image of a teen or young adult summer job — lifeguarding, scooping ice cream, bagging groceries — has faded a bit in American culture in recent years. Over the last decade, the number of teenagers working during the big school year break has declined from highs in the 1970s. Sixty percent of teenagers worked or looked for work in 1978; only 35% did the same in 2016.
There are several reasons for the shift: more teens are enrolled in summer school; seniors who aren't ready to retire are occupying jobs younger people historically took on; and, to a certain degree, it just doesn't look cool anymore. Perhaps, as suggested at The Atlantic, the "social feedback loop" that made unpaid internships and volunteer work the thing to do make summer jobs look outdated. (And unfortunately, low-income teens often lack both the ability and connections to get unpaid labor, even if they'd love the résumé boost.)
However passé it might seem, summer jobs can make a big different in young people's lives. Mike Minton, assistant director of the Career Center at Illinois State University, told the Chicago Tribune that "students with notable work experience from their teen years often come to college with a strong sense of time management, strong verbal communication skills and a good work ethic" — attributes any employer would want. Not to mention the fact that getting a head start in the workforce may help clue people in to the things they do or don't like, or skills they'd like to hone.
Ahead, we talked to four women in different fields about how their first summer jobs helped shape their careers years later.