When should your teenager get a job?

Teens gain many life skills once they start their first job.
Teens gain many life skills once they start their first job. Photo: Getty Images

School holidays are just around the corner and if your teen has a long summer ahead of hanging out on the couch, checking Facebook and lazing around the pool, it might be time for them to consider looking for part-time work.

In Australia, the age you can legally gain employment and the type of work you can do varies from state to state, but generally teenagers can begin working from the age of 13. While there’s no need for students to rush out and get a job the moment they’re of legal working age, getting a part-time job while they’re still at school comes with many benefits. 

“Working part-time is an excellent way for teenagers to develop a wide range of skills that can help them function in everyday life,” says psychologist Clare Mann from Communicate31. “As well as learning to manage money and work with others, they can achieve a sense of mastery, responsibility, independence and accountability,” she says.  

As an example, eighteen-year-old university student, Husayn, began working at an IT business at age 14, and his mother credits his part-time job for giving him a greater sense of responsibility and developing his confidence. “He enjoyed making sales and liked the customer contact, especially when people came back to the store and asked for him to serve them,” she says. “It really boosted his confidence and improved his ability to converse with adults, so I definitely support the idea of students finding part-time work.”

The Career Development Association of Australia’s Queensland President, Jennifer Towler, also recommends that students find casual work while they are at school. “Being able to prove that you’ve got experience in the workforce is invaluable,” she says, and those who don’t have this experience may find it difficult to gain employment when they leave school.

“I think around the age of 15 it’s worthwhile for students to start pursuing the idea of getting a casual job, especially over the long summer break when homework and extra-curricular activities aren’t competing for their time,” says Towler. Then once school goes back, students can drop down to around 10-12 hours per week to give ample time to focus on school work, she says.

While finding a job that relates to a student’s future career aspirations can be useful, Towler states that it doesn’t really matter what kind of work teenagers do, as it’s more about them being able to demonstrate that they can maintain a job, show up on time, present themselves well and follow directions.

Mann agrees that developing these life skills at a young age is important to avoid potential issues down the track. “So often I find that teenagers who have never worked find it very challenging to develop the self-discipline required to go to work every day,” she says. “Therefore, getting a part-time job can be excellent preparation for the adult workforce, especially in helping teenagers develop a routine and consider other people’s priorities and requirements.”

Employment can also assist young people to understand the relationship between effort and reward and help dispel any sense of entitlement they may have. “A balance has to be struck between taking responsibility and making a contribution and having time for rest and enjoyment before the responsibility of adulthood hits,” says Mann.

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Along with preparing them for life in the workforce, casual employment can help young people manage adult life in general. Part-time work helps teens think for themselves and manage their time, says Mann, and these skills are critical in helping young people learn how to stand on their own two feet.

If a child is used to having everything done for them, their capacity to function independently is inhibited, which can make adulthood a very overwhelming and sometimes depressing place, as this young woman found out.

Needless to say, helping your teenager prepare for life as an adult will be valuable to their future success in the ‘real’ world. So whether it’s through gentle encouragement or their own motivation, Towler advises that once your child decides to look for work, it’s best for them to be proactive when approaching potential employers.  

“Make sure they actually go in and talk to them,” she says. “It’s easy to be disregarded on the phone or by email, but if you’ve come in prepared and made an impression, it shows that you’re more interested than those who haven’t made the effort,” she says.

Towler also suggests taking a resume along when going to meet with prospective employers. A teenager’s resume doesn’t need to be fancy, but should outline who they are and their skills and interests so the businesses they’ve approached have something on file, she says.

Also, students should never underestimate leaving their resume with a receptionist, warns Towler, as an employer will nearly always ask the opinion of their staff if someone comes in looking for work. “No matter what, always give a good first impression,” she says.

With a professional appearance, a positive attitude and a desire to contribute, your teen can get a foot in the door of the workforce, and once this happens, it’s likely that many more doors will open.  

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