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How Technology Is Changing Summer Jobs for Kids

For generations, teens have been the backbone of many entry-level positions, seeking summer jobs to earn a little extra cash when school was out. From taking tickets at movie theaters to serving up fries at local restaurants, summer jobs gave teens something to do when they weren’t in school.

Today, the nature of summer jobs is changing. Some teens want work that gives them job training for their future careers, while others are finding their jobs eliminated by automation. It’s likely that your teen will have a summer job that looks nothing like your first job, even if it was in fast-food or an entry-level retail position. Here’s how technology is changing the modern summer job environment and how your teen will be affected.   

The Modern Economy Is In a State of Flux

Today’s workforce is experiencing some of the fastest changes that any living generation has seen. Niall Dunne, CEO at Polymateria, a London-based company that designs biodegradation technology for plastics, writes that some 65 percent of primary school students will go on to work in jobs that currently do not exist. In his article at the World Economic Forum, Dunne explains that some experts are referring to this time period as “The Fourth Industrial Revolution,” where jobs we never dreamed of are about to become commonplace.

More Jobs Than Ever Require Tech Literacy

While new jobs are being created, existing jobs are changing and employers are demanding a tech literate workforce. The Brookings Institution recently released a report called Digitalization and the American Workforce, which discusses how jobs across dozens of industries require technological training.

The report reviewed 545 occupations covering 90 percent of the American workforce and found that the number of occupations requiring low levels of tech knowledge are decreasing. In 2002, 56 percent of occupations required low level digital skills, a number that dropped to 30 percent in 2016. Even jobs in construction, restaurant service, and personal care require some medium to high level of knowledge of technology.

Not All Jobs Will Survive the Change

It’s undeniable that some jobs look dramatically different from a few generations ago and others are disappearing entirely.

Today’s newspaper delivery isn’t done by plucky neighborhood kids on bikes anymore, but often by overworked adults, Michael Levenson at the Boston Globe writes. They run their routes 365 days per year and then work an additional job (or three) to make ends meet. In a decade where newspaper subscriptions are plummeting, the industry and market has changed, virtually taking this job off of the table for most teens.

While these statistics may seem alarming, the upcoming generation is taking it in stride, and changing how they work and who they work for.

A man working in a restaurant

Digital Natives Are Bringing Technology to the Workplace

The next generation of employees are changing how they work from the second they get hired. Many brands are tailoring their operations, including their training and onboarding processes, to appeal to digital natives.

“Companies that are able to do a lot of online training with mobile [technology] have found a real reception from the employees they’re hiring,” Lane Cardwell, president of Cardwell Hospitality Advisory tells QSR Magazine. “Hand them an iPad with some program learning, some test questions along the way that make sure they are picking up the information, some videos that reinforce what they’re being told—it just makes it so much better for everybody.”

Changes in technology affect much more than the onboarding process. However, as Ben Rossi reports at Information Age, almost half of workers don’t think their company provides adequate technology for day-to-day work. They want to communicate in the most effective ways possible to work as effectively as possible. “For the app generation,” he writes, “devices such as office phones and fax machines are not only unnecessary, they are bewilderingly inefficient.”

Teens Are Finding Their Own Ways to Make Money

Not only are digital natives helping companies move into the 21st century and introducing technology into previously analog environments, they’re also changing the employment landscape as a whole.

According to YPulse, a youth marketing and research firm, 42 percent of 13-17 year olds plan to hold down a summer job. While summer jobs didn’t rank as high as traveling and spending time with friends and family, they were more important to younger teens than taking classes and building out their resumes. However, this changes as teens get older, and focus more on refining their college resumes and preparing to leave high school.

Today’s teens aren’t going door-to-door asking to mow neighbors’ lawns or clean out their gutters. They’re more likely to turn to their smartphones to connect with potential employers and pick up side gigs.

Consider apps like TaskRabbit which people use to post errands and chores they need done. Teens can spend an afternoon helping people assemble furniture or complete yard work. Similarly, the Wag! app allows people to sign up as dog walkers and there are dozens of apps for finding babysitters and nannies.

Scott Bennett, founder of Skratch, an app that connects teens in 26 Dallas zip codes with adults and businesses looking for help with tasks or small jobs, says that 73 percent of all teens have access to a smartphone and spend an average of 200 minutes per day using it. This generation grew up with smartphones and concepts like Uber and AirBnb. For them, tapping into the gig economy is second nature to make money when they want and how they want.

A summer worker making pizza

Automation Is Changing Entry-Level Work

Along with the rise of the gig economy, the most noticeable trend that parents see is the rise of automation in entry-level positions.  However, while more tasks in the workforce are likely to be automated, that doesn’t mean humans will be completely replaced.

James Manyika, Chairman and Director of the McKinsey Global Institute, reports that 60 percent of occupations could have at least 30 percent of their tasks automated; however, only five percent of jobs could be automated completely.

Robots Won’t Steal Teen Jobs

Every few months, it seems, there’s news of employee-free fast casual restaurants where robots handle the work, leaving some parents to wonder if their kids will ever have a chance to flip burgers as their first job.

In an article for Entrepreneur, Elizabeth Dunn profiled Panera 2.0, a mobile and kiosk ordering plan for all 2,000 of Panera’s fast casual locations. When she visited the franchises and talked to leadership to see if how it affected operations, she found that early Panera 2.0 franchises actually hired more staff, not less.

The new systems meant more orders were coming in with increased customization, and the franchises needed more human hands to help with the increased sales. Technology is a significant part of the fast food experience, but it’s not eliminating roles entirely.

Teens Can Prepare to Manage Automated Processes

In response to the rise in robot assistants, parents should help their teens look for summer jobs where they can develop soft skills to prepare them to use technology in their future careers.

One report by The Foundation for Young Australians found that digital literacy was the most in-demand skill by large employers, with an increased demand of 212 percent over the past three years. Other enterprise or transferable skills that hiring managers look for rely on emotional intelligence. Demand for critical thinking by employers increased 158 percent and the demand for creativity as a skill went up by 65 percent.

Employers know automation is on the rise, which is why they want to hire creative problem solvers to lead their companies into the future. Whether teens are working as lifeguards or caddies at a golf courses, they’re developing skills to manage technology and get hired in the future.

A pool lifeguard at work 

Summer Jobs Prepare Students for Future STEAM Careers

While many parents are tempted to sign their kids up for internships or find entry-level temp work for their teens to gain work experience, there are significant benefits to your teen getting a low-paying, entry-level service job.

Scooping ice cream or working in fast food can help teens see how other people behave and give them experience understanding how people treat service staff. Dr. Michele Borba, author of Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About Me World, says these jobs build empathy and expose kids to different social groups and communities. “Exposure helps them see that others have the same feelings or likes or needs,” she tells Quartz.  

Entry-level jobs can also prepare your children to enter the workforce in ways you might not realize. In an article for CNBC, Caroline Moss profiled her old roommate to show how years of waiting tables prepared her for a high-level operations job. Skills she developed in food service included:

  • Prioritizing important tasks
  • Communicating clearly with co-workers and customers
  • Working in a team to accomplish goals
  • Maintaining a positive attitude regardless of the situation

These are all traits that any employer would love in an employee, regardless of their position.

Lawyer Gary Ross agrees that low-tech jobs can provide valuable skills. He says waiting tables for more than eight years actually helped prepare him for his law career. From being adaptable and personable to addressing problems immediately, Ross uses the same customer service mentality with his clients now as he did with his diners.

Not only will your teen develop critical thinking skills needed to manage technology, they will also develop people skills and other traits that make them an asset to any team.

Parents and teens don’t have to worry about finding work in science labs or temp positions at engineering companies to work summer jobs that are relevant to the modern era. They will likely develop the skills they need and interact with technology regardless of the company or industry they work for. As parents, you might be surprised by what they pick up.