Summer work experience: it’s worth it

For most schools in the UK, today marks the start of the summer holidays. Over the next six weeks, many students will be looking forward to some well-earned time off to relax with family and friends. But, if you’re a student, the summer break is also a great opportunity for you to spend some time boosting your career prospects – and building your character – by gaining valuable work experience.

This could be in the form of paid work, helping out in a family business, volunteering, or simply offering to do odd-jobs for your neighbours. Whatever shape your work experience takes, when you look back at how you spent your summer holidays, you will appreciate the time you gave to learning valuable skills, developing your work ethic, and taking home so much more than some extra pocket money. Whether you are at school, college or university, a summer job is a great way to get a taste of working life and to improve your awareness of what it means to have additional responsibility. Crucially, this will also begin to mentally prepare you for working life.

As a student, I didn’t know which skills I could offer, which industries I was interested in or which jobs I was suitable for. But I did realise the value of work experience early on and as a teenager took on various jobs to develop my skills. I worked in shops, sold ice creams and turned my hand to gardening, decorating and even grave digging. I earned some money along the way which gave me an early taste of independence and I met a lot of people from whom I learnt a great deal.

Working over the summer can teach you some of the basic skills required when in employment: taking responsibility, how to work well in a team, managing your time and how to solve problems are some that spring to mind. If it’s paid work you’re doing, that can teach you further life skills about handling your finances and making decisions about saving and spending. Most importantly, a summer job will help you develop a work ethic. This involves understanding the importance of time keeping, impressing your customers and developing a drive to succeed, no matter what task you are given. If you instil and develop these principles early on, you will benefit in spades later.

One of the main learning curves I remember from my holiday work experience is that some tasks can be downright unpleasant but they are a necessary part of the job. Every job will have elements to it that you don’t like but you shouldn’t be too proud to get your hands dirty. Additionally, work experience can be as much of a lesson in what you don’t want to do, as it can be for discovering what you do enjoy. I certainly learned quickly that I did not want to be digging graves in January. The lessons you take away from a holiday job are priceless and will help to give you direction for the future. Even if you didn’t like the job, you now know it’s not the right path for you, and can still come away with new experiences to put on your CV and a clearer understanding of where you might – or might not – want to work. Future proofing your career prospects is one of the best uses of time during your summer holiday and will benefit you in the long-term.

At REED, we see thousands of people come through our doors with different levels of experience. If someone has shown initiative by working or volunteering in their spare time, I know they are invested in their personal development, and I would be more willing to offer them a role over a graduate fresh out of university with no work experience.  

You might be wondering how to go about finding a summer job. One route is through researching programmes in your local area. At Reed in Partnership, we deliver the National Citizen Service (NCS) programme that aims to provide a life-changing experience to 16-17-year olds. The programme brings together young people from all different backgrounds and offers them the chance to learn new skills, putting their abilities to the test, while making new friends. The programme is also the first time many young people will have been away from home, a challenge in itself. After completion of the course, they are rewarded with a certificate they can usefully include in their CV.

Work experience is good experience, whether you enjoy it or not, and is something you will look back on as an integral part of your personal development. It is also something you can use to strengthen your CV – and by extension, your future job prospects. A good work ethic will serve you well today, tomorrow, and for the rest of your working life. You’ll also finish the summer with some good stories to tell…