I got my first job when I was 16. This was back in the 90s, and I received £2.96 an hour as a checkout worker at Waitrose. It was easy enough; this was before self-service, so everyone came to me, and I didn’t have to run between several machines when people were unhappily waiting.
I was glad to work; it gave me a bit of income – and £2.96 an hour in 1997, when I was 16 and living with my parents, was a lot of money – and let me meet new people. It also gave me an appreciation for retail that I never got again.
I intend to encourage Bryan to get a Saturday job when he’s older – he’s 10, there’s plenty of time – but I’m starting to introduce him to the concept of work and reward, in our own way. I can’t claim credit for the initial idea, however; we live in a block of flats, and weeds have been growing up in the courtyard. It needs someone to keep an eye on it occasionally, and the agent was looking for someone. Fortuitously, one of our neighbours – friends – thought that Bryan might enjoy it as a project to do with me, and she couldn’t have been more right.
There’s a little cash reward for Bryan, so that attracted him (just a little contribution to his money box), and we did an hour after school one day this week. I was intrigued to see how he got on, as we did some weeding, put down some weed killer, and planned what we were going to do in a couple of weeks. A couple of kids came and joined in from one of our other neighbours and friends – it’s a friendly block – and it really felt rewarding.
Bryan and I had talked beforehand about making sure he contributed; he couldn’t just do a couple of minutes work, get bored, wander off, and still expect to get “paid” at the end. To his credit, he was incredibly helpful, and he said how much he had enjoyed it. Just before we went in, I told him to just take a step back and look at what we’d done; there was a clearer space and already it looked better. He beamed with pride, and I could see his mind ticking over. He even said he’d “loved it” when we came in.
I’m in favour of child labour laws that keep children in the classroom and away from hard labour, but I’m also in favour of letting kids see how everything is connected in the world; the weeding and tidying we’re doing together in the fresh air gets us outside, helps Bryan see how we can make a difference in our own neighbourhood, and how rewards can take many different forms; the reward of a job well done as well as being compensated for it. And it’s something we get to do together, with friends and neighbours coming and going for us to chat to.
I look back on my work experience with a variety of different emotions, but I remember that first job I had; the sense of accomplishment of doing something aside from school that had a purpose, and it was interesting. I hope Bryan can look back on the couple of hours every month we spend doing this work with fondness, and maybe it’ll even inspire him.
Right now, he wants to be a shop keeper when he’s an adult, owning his own business; in his words, “a Poundland arts and crafts shop, Daddy.” All credit to him for that; when I was ten, I wanted to be a doctor, but I soon changed my mind; I wonder if Bryan will – but if you see a cut-price arts and crafts shop in 20 years appearing on the high street, you heard it here first.