Saturday 1 October 2016

How to be amazing at your summer job

As thousands of teenagers around the country get ready to join the workforce, our reporter asks employers what they want out of seasonal workers

Áilín Quinlan

Published 14/07/2016 | 02:30

Opportunity: Cian Wheldon (17) at the Meade Potato Company, Lobinstown, Co Meath. Photo: Douglas O'Connor.
Opportunity: Cian Wheldon (17) at the Meade Potato Company, Lobinstown, Co Meath. Photo: Douglas O'Connor.

This summer, teenager Cian Weldon landed his first student job.

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The 17-year-old began work in early June in the human resources and logistics department of the Meade Potato Company, a thriving family-owned vegetable grower and distributor near Navan. Cian's job is to help other employees - the company has a workforce of 240 - train on the online orientation system.

"I'm really enjoying the job," he says. "To me, what's important is doing the work with a good attitude and to give it my all. My goal is to come back here every summer through school and college, so it's about getting my head down and doing what is asked of me to the best of my ability.

"It's important that your employer sees your potential so that they won't want to get someone else next year. It's already opened my eyes to the possibility of careers in areas like HR or logistics."

Cian is one of tens of thousands of students who enter the workplace during the summer. Some 55,500 students were hard at work during July, August and September last year, according to the Central Statistics Office, and the figure is expected to be similar this year.

And while for many it's an opportunity to make a few quid to fund summer socialising, for many more, that first paid job can provide the first clues to how they'd like to spend the rest of their working lives.

Fiona Higgins, senior manager of employer relations with the Irish Business and Employers' Confederation, believes students should fully understand the value of workplace experience as a building block for a future career.

"Don't underestimate the opportunity and experience that any kind of summer work gives in terms of skill development, whether the work is in a sandwich bar or a large retail outlet," she says. "Go in with the attitude that you're here to learn a useful skill and be prepared to exploit that opportunity for your own self development."

And you can actually start getting some valuable experience under your belt from quite an early age - under the Protection of Young Persons (Employment) Act 1996, children aged 14 and 15 may be employed in 'light work' during the school holidays, although they must have at least 21 days off work during this time. The maximum working week for children (14 and 15 year olds) outside school term time is 35 hours, or up to 40 hours if they are on approved work experience. Young people (16 and 17 year olds) can, however, be employed on a regular full-time basis.

It's important to carefully research your new workplace, its key players and its policies before starting a job there, Higgins explains, particularly in terms of standards of acceptable behaviour, dress code and phone or social media use. And remember - you have your rights: part-time teenage workers are covered by the bulk of employment rights laws.

According to business and employer association IBEC, certain industries subject to seasonal fluctuations in business, such as agriculture, food processing, retail, tourism and catering, tend to hire extra staff on a temporary basis when business is extra-brisk - and it is in these sectors that many work-hungry students find summer work.

Initiative, punctuality and a positive attitude are the attributes of the successful summer employee, believes Eleanor Meade, business operations manager of the Meade Potato Company in Lobinstown.

Put your phone away, she advises, be respectful to supervisors, avoid short-cuts, do small jobs well (they lead to bigger jobs and more responsibility), never lie about uncompleted tasks - your supervisor will check - and always be prepared to take instruction and constructive feedback well.

"In the past we've had teenagers who were averse to constructive feedback or instruction and they generally didn't last the test of time," she says.

Publican Ray Blackwell, who manages the West Cork bar and music venue, de Barra's, in Clonakilty, has been hiring students for more than 10 years.

"Our students are generally over the age of 18 and quite often it's their first summer job.

"They collect classes, sweep up breakages, stock the bars, stock the cold-room, clean up at the end of the night, plus there are kitchen duties and meal serving," he explains.

Ray's advice - stay busy.

"If you've completed a task don't stand around waiting to be told to do the next thing.

"If things are quiet, sweep the floor, clean tables or wash glasses.

Like most employers, Ray is big on punctuality, and attentiveness. If you're not sure what to do, ask, he says, but pay attention to the answer so that you don't ask the same question again.

"It's hard work," he adds. "Being in front of the bar sipping a pint and working behind it are two different worlds!"

Last but not least, he says, avoid using your phone when you're working and never ever simply fail to turn up to work.

Kathryna O'Driscoll, owner of the Kidstuff clothes store in Newbridge, Co Kildare has taken on students every summer for the past 10 years.

They're generally over 18, and work in areas such as pricing, customer service, till operation and warehouse manager.

When possible, arrive at work 15 minutes early, she advises. "Avoid moodiness - when you're in a professional space and being treated as an adult, you have to behave like an adult," she adds.

Be mature - don't get mum to ring in if you're ill, she says. Do it yourself.

Junior Certificate student Brian Deasy was delighted when he landed a summer job in his local hotel - the 15-year-old started work towards the end of June stocking the bar and clearing up after large functions.

"It's great. There are a lot of people around my age there and it's a nice place to work. I'd like to be taken back again, and to do that you have to work hard, you can't slack.

"It's also important to be able to take feedback."

Brian is one of a group of a 70-strong team of summer students taken on by hotelier Neil O Neill, operations manager in the busy, family-run Fernhill House Hotel in the West Cork town of Clonakilty.

For Neil, punctuality, initiative, a good attitude, strong team-work and reliability are crucial in any employee. If you agree to come in for an extra shift, always turn up, he warns - the other staff are counting on you.

"Be polite and courteous. This may seem obvious but sometimes teenagers can be unwittingly off-putting," he observes.

And avoid mobile devices in working hours. "This is a big no-no," he warns. "We're not paying people to consult Facebook!"

And save at least some of your earnings! Because cumulatively, over an entire summer, they may add up to a quite tidy sum. Since January 1, the national minimum wage is €9.15 per hour, although this does not mean that everyone is automatically entitled to this. Young people aged under 18 are only guaranteed up to 70pc of the national minimum wage, which is €6.41 per hour, although an employer is, of course, free to pay more if he or she so wishes.

"Don't fritter your wages away!" says O Neill."Keep them for something you need or else for your school or college year."

Irish Independent

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