Over the years, numerous "Evergreen" readers have written to us recalling their first jobs and amusing experiences in the world of work. The satisfaction of receiving your first wage packet marks one of those key moments in life when you feel as if you are finally making your own way and "earning a living". How did your working life begin? For many people a Saturday job was their introduction to employment. It was a rite of passage that gave you extra pocket money and independence while still at school and helped boost your confidence and experience. A recent survey has revealed, though, that Saturday jobs undertaken by teenagers aged 13 to 15 are in marked decline and have fallen by a fifth in the last five years.
In my day a paper round, waiting on tables or working in a shop were among the most popular part-time occupations for teenagers. Saturdays and school holidays provided my generation with the opportunity to enter the workplace. From the age of 15 I spent my Saturdays working in a shop selling china, cookware and gifts. It was a wonderful family-run business and it taught me a lot. Assisting and serving customers, unpacking stock, gift-wrapping purchases, making tea and coffee for the permanent staff, and helping to clean and tidy the shop were all part of my duties, for which I was paid £15 a day. It wasn't arduous, but it was busy and under the owner's ever-watchful gaze there was definitely no shirking. For me the greatest rewards were the different experiences it provided and the chance to prove my capabilities outside school.
Serving customers and giving change meant that my mental arithmetic and confidence improved no end. One of the most perilous undertakings was retrieving an item for a customer, which was on display in the shop window. You had to climb some rickety steps (Health and Safety blissfully passed us by back then!) and, having removed your shoes, tiptoe along a polished wooden surface, carefully navigating the bone china and other delicate goods as you attempted to reach your quarry, which was usually in the most distant corner of the display. The window ran virtually the entire length of the shop, and passers-by would peer in, waiting to see if you would slip and come crashing down, demolishing the elaborate display with spectacular effect. I nearly did on several occasions, but thankfully regained my balance in time. I loved working in the shop and continued as a Saturday girl there for three years until I left school.
Since then, of course, the working environment has changed dramatically, which in some ways explains the demise of the Saturday job. The growth of online retailing is a major factor as are stringent employment laws and fewer part-time vacancies. However, students are also said to be devoting more time to their studies because of the increasing pressure to achieve good results. While a dedicated approach to studying is commendable, it is a shame that youngsters are missing out on the chance to experience the workplace and acquire essential skills that will benefit them later in life.
In my mind the real value of Saturday jobs lies not just in offering students the potential to earn, but to learn. They help instil responsibility, reliability, efficiency, teamwork and initiative. Such employment opportunities enable teenagers to develop as individuals, prepare for life beyond the classroom and gain valuable work experience. All these are attributes that any future employer will rate highly. But it's not just teenagers who should be encouraged to roll up their sleeves on Saturdays, government, businesses and education must play their part too. By working together on initiatives that introduce youngsters to the world of work - before they leave school - it will help create a British workforce that is fit for the future.