The Changing Face of the Summer Job

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For many people, the first steps into personal finance management and understanding the real, practical responsibilities that come with earning money are tied to summer jobs undertaken at the close of the school year. Post-secondary students in particular will seek new employment or increased hours with the aim of reducing the existing educationally-related debts that have become a troubling indicator of the modern experience of higher learning. Mid-June is a critical point in the employment life-cycle, as the temporary/part time labour market surges. However, the cultural identity of the summer job is taking on a new dimension in an “Uberized” workplace.

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Statistical evidence suggests a decades-long trend in which fewer teens than ever work summer jobs: While more than half of North American teenagers worked summer jobs in the 1970s and 1980s, these days fewer than one in three do, according to a survey released in 2015 by the Pew Research Center.

Seasonal employment generally takes on one of two forms: that which is pursued in order to gain valuable degree-related experience (potentially at the expense of earnings, in such cases as internships) and that which is motivated by immediately available earnings and the desire to reduce debt and create an active financial contribution to savings for the next schoolyear.

On-demand employment has engineered a more flexible and piecemeal approach to part-time work for students. Rather than committing to a set schedule, students operate more as if they were independent contractors or so-called “micropreneurs.” The benefits of such work are immediately tangible to many students: however, the student seeking summer employment will need to personally account for the value of harder-to-conceptualize and longer-term returns that working in a less lucrative, but more developmentally oriented, job, might offer.

The prevailing trend seems to suggest that, for the majority of students, there is more attractiveness in the long-term value offered by creating connections at companies that might offer better pay as a full-time employee once a degree or program of study is completed. Of course, an ideal summer job would offer both valuable experience and the opportunity to create financial growth. The on-demand employment model is creating greater flexibility for students who wish to spend the majority of their non-academic time developing valuable experience, but also see the potential to make their summers a vehicle for savings and financial planning.

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