Deputy Editor Lydia Waller discussed the unfortunate decline of the Saturday job, arguing that it provides students with essential employability skills

Deputy Editor
Images by PeakPx

Pressure to perform at school, in both academics and extracurriculars is something well known to our generation. Music lessons, sports, prefects, Duke of Edinburgh, NCS, dancing lessons, Scouts, are but a few examples of extra commitments children feel encouraged to do from an early age, urging them to ‘be different,’ ‘stand out from others,’ ‘start building that CV early’; but how useful is this narrative to a generation encouraged to seek a job through the academic route, where Masters are the new degree, and what was exceptional ‘back then,’ is slowly becoming the norm now?

One form of extracurricular that is slowly becoming less and less common in school children is the humble Saturday job. The amounting pressure to spend every spare moment on revision and academics is minimising the attitude that school children have the time to work,

The amounting pressure to spend every spare moment on revision and academics is minimising the attitude that school children have the time to work

and learn the valuable lessons of customer service and self-sufficiency, as well as study. Obviously, whether someone has the opportunity, capabilities and necessity to get a Saturday job is something very subjective to circumstances; I aim not to talk conclusively about whether one should necessarily get a part-time job during education. However, in light of The Daily Mail Online’s article that states the ‘numbers of 16 and 17-year-olds in weekend part-time employment [has halved] in 20 years,’ we have to understand the correlation of this with the future employability of this generation, which The Daily Mail also say have ‘fallen 23 per cent in 20 years.’ The priorities of this generation to that of the 90’s appear to have shifted, from getting your foot in the door of work experience, to getting academic qualifications that arguably make you more apt for the working world.

These sorts of arguments about what prepares us more for employment, go back to the philosophy of Sir Francis Bacon, that ‘knowledge is power’, the more we are in education the more equipped we are for future employment. Yet the opportunities of our parents’ and grandparents’ generation appear to come from stories of ‘working their way up,’ starting as coffee-making interns and somehow climbing up that ladder to being a CEO.

As we know in our generation, these sorts of success stories are not as common or plausible these days; most jobs require degrees or further education certificates in order to qualify for consideration. So should we be championing the Saturday job again, or are we best to prioritise studying? What about those who need to have part-time employment to be in education? Why do we have to choose between the two?

What is asked of children in regard to their employability, is a lot

The coexistence of education and part-time employment is such a nuanced area, but one thing does seem to be clear, is that what is asked of children in regard to their employability, is a lot. Study hard and be employable, be stress-free, healthy, active, working, A-grade achieving, and never stop trying to be better than everyone else.

I don’t know what the way forward about reviving the Saturday job is, but I do know that having work experience before graduating is incredibly valuable. I have had a part-time job since I was 16, from cleaning offices to bar-work, and the skills I have learnt from customer service are something that Duke of Edinburgh probably would never have taught me. The ability to deal with different people’s demands, learning to say no, learning the worth of my labour, understanding tax and entitlements, learning time-management and how to prioritise what is important to me, are all things that pouring pints has given me. But this is not to say that I was not incredibly stressed during my A-levels, having to think about shifts on the weekend – the pressure was immense. 

Resolution Foundation’s research director states that despite more people working now, ‘around one in 12 working-age adults [have] never worked a day in their lives- a 50 percent increase since the late 1990s,’ demonstrating how the narrative of employment success is one that has shifted from working your way up from your Saturday job, to academic paths of achievement. It goes without saying that academia is not the only route to employment success, but our generation is constantly fed the narrative that degree equals job. It seems unfair that our generation and the next will miss out on employment opportunities because we are working too hard, and that we are working too hard in the wrong areas. However, maybe we need to show a degree of pragmatism in what sort of skills we aim to acquire for job prospects, like the ability to work in customer service and gaining confidence in working teams. Maybe we need to be savvy with a system that is supposed to be helping us get places.

Employers need to understand the weight of asking for CVs glowing with work experience, paid and unpaid and flying-coloured degree certificates. We can’t always be winning some and losing some.