18 March 2021 – When I was 11 years old, my father would take me to work at his auctions. We travelled all over the UK and the hours were punishing but I never grumbled at the time.
I liked work more than I liked school. Looking back, this gave me my first taste of what it would be like to run my own business. I learned about sales, customer service, and the basics of profit and loss.
By the age of 13, I was making my own pocket money working in the upmarket menswear store Cecil Gee. I was paid the princely sum of £5 a day. When I got a £1 pay rise, I felt like the richest man in Yorkshire.
In those days, things were very different. Most kids had paper rounds or jobs on the weekend. We didn’t have videogames and smartphones. If you wanted to fill your time, you had to read a book, watch the same four channels on TV, play outside… or get a job. It’s very different for kids today. There are so many distractions and diversions. There are also fewer opportunities to find work. The likes of Woolworths, BHS, Topshop, and Blockbuster used to be the training ground for so many young adults. These high street stalwarts have now disappeared. Supermarket cashiers are being replaced with automated checkouts. Entry level jobs across multiple industries have been replaced with machines.
Today, there are fewer young people working weekend jobs than ever before. A study into the number of teenagers “earning while learning” last year by think tank The Resolution Foundation found that just a quarter of 16-17 year-olds had a Saturday job between 2017 and 2019, down from almost 50% in the 1990s. I’m sure the COVID crisis of the past year has taken that figure even lower.
I’m worried about the effect of this trend on young people. Making your own money at a younger age teaches so many life skills. You understand the value of saving, learn how to budget, develop a work ethic, and stoke the first fires of ambition. Depending on what job you take, you could also learn a trade that paves the way for your future career.
I understand that kids should prioritise their studies; there is a lot of pressure on them to perform well academically. They also need rest and downtime. The government has strict rules in place to protect younger workers. Legally, children can only work part-time from the age of 13: just two hours a day during the week and seven to eight hours over the weekend in term-time. They can work up to 25 hours a week during the school holidays.
It remains my firm belief that every young person would benefit from taking their first steps into work earlier in life. How can we make that happen? How can we encourage more youth ambition? As business owners, we must start by creating opportunities for teenagers to work part-time and access valuable mentoring and training around their school commitments. I also would like to see schools build more work experience into the curriculum. Wouldn’t it be incredible if 13-year-olds had to find and work a job for one week in their final term at school? Think of how eye-opening that would be for a young person?
The past year has been especially hard on the young. They have felt isolated, depressed, and forgotten. Work is a brilliant way to fire up young minds, and show them the enormous potential for personal growth and development out in the world. It gives them the opportunity to learn social skills that will be vital in their future interactions – and takes them away from the dreaded screens.
I really hope that we can figure out an effective way to encourage more teenagers to take their first steps towards their career development and independence. My weekend jobs during growing up made me the man I am today, and I credit so much of my success to the values instilled in me at that young age. Let’s give today’s young adults the same opportunity to grow and thrive. They deserve it.