Parents around the world have strong opinions about whether their kids should work.
On this Industry Focus: Financials episode, host Gaby Lapera and Fool contributor Daniel Kline weigh in on why it can be great for children to work and share some career advice for people of all ages. Find out some of the many things kids can learn from having a part-time job early on, some of the most important career skills to learn before going into the working world, why it can be beneficial to work in lots of different industries and environments, how to know when it might be time to change careers, some things to keep in mind about college, and more.
A full transcript follows the video.
This video was recorded on June 28, 2017.
Gaby Lapera: Welcome to Industry Focus, the podcast that dives into a different sector of the stock market every day. You're listening to the Financials edition, taped on Wednesday, June 28. But you'll be listening to this on July 3, 2017. My name is Gaby Lapera, and joining me in the studio is a brand-new guest, Dan Kline!
Dan Kline: Brand-new on this version of Industry Focus.
Lapera: That's true. Dan Kline is one of our Motley Fool contributors, and one of his areas of specialty is careers, which I'm very excited to have him here to talk about today. I thought we would shake it up. I know we did a personal finance episode a couple of weeks ago, and now we're going to be talking about what to do, how to get that money that you're using for personal finance. Thank you very much for joining us, Dan.
Kline: Thank you for having me.
Lapera: Dan flew up from Florida, and I have to say the same thing that I do literally every time I have someone in the studio -- I'm so pumped to have someone in the studio.
Kline: [laughs] Vince is the same way. I do some of these over Skype, and one, it's hard because you don't see the other person, so it's difficult to react. But also, it's much more fun being here.
Lapera: Yeah, the only thing is, I have to be very careful because I know that when people are on Skype, I can just -- I mess with my chair, I scratch my chin, I do all these things, and every once in a while, I'll catch a little snippet of me finishing talking to Maxfield and all of a sudden I'm leaning away to slurp my tea so it doesn't get picked up by the mic. It's not cute. But I'm going to be focused. I'm going to be good looking, although most of you are listening to this as a podcast and not watching the video, so it doesn't really matter. [laughs] But in the interest of having a normal conversation while I make eye contact, I will make sure to be normal.
OK, today's topic of the show, kind of timely. School has just gotten out. Should kids work? That's what we're going to talk about today. Dan and I are both people with strong opinions.
Kline: Yeah. Both of us worked growing up. I had a family business, and from the age of 8 and on, on Saturdays, my father worked from 7:00 to 3:00 and I went to work. And maybe I stuffed envelopes, maybe I counted things, maybe I just changed the channel on the television for the salesmen who were working and answering phone calls. But there was always work. That was important for me, because I wasn't a great student, and it showed me that there's more to life than school. So in a lot of cases, I think work can absolutely be important to kids. But if your kid is a driven scholar, or like my brother, who was a self-made Division I baseball player who would get up at 3 a.m. to, I don't know what baseball players do, throw himself fly balls or swing the bat or whatever it is. This is very foreign to me, then, OK, I think you're learning those things. Otherwise, work is important. You had a different work experience growing up.
Lapera: Yeah. I grew up -- my parents, for a little bit of background, are immigrants. They got here in '84. They both worked hard their entire lives. They actually came here originally for grad school and just stuck around forever. My dad has been working since he was 12 because his father died of a stroke when he was very young. So he's been working his entire life. So when I said that I wanted to officially start working, with a W-2, when I was 14, my dad was like, "No, I don't want you to, I love you so much, I worked so hard so that you didn't have to work. Do you think we're in financial trouble? Is that why you're trying to work? You don't have to work, baby!" And I was like, "No, I want to work." I grew up watching both of my parents work so hard, and I also wanted to contribute to the household, even if it was only for my own expenses, which I had a lot of, because I chose a very expensive hobby as a 14-year-old --
Kline: I was going to say, short of being a heroin addict, you chose the most expensive hobby you could have as a kid.
Lapera: It's true. I was and am a horseback rider. I love ponies. If you want to send me a picture of ponies, listeners, email@example.com -- always welcome.
Kline: See, I didn't do that. I'm struggling with this now. I have a 13-year-old, and I have a 13-year-old who's a smart kid. He has his interests, but school doesn't really captivate him and he doesn't really have a drive. But he's grown up with parents who are reasonably well-off. We live in a nice house, we have a vacation home, we can do what we want. So his sense of money and where money comes from is appalling. He's very into sneakers, and he'll say to me, "When I work, I'll just buy whatever sneakers I want." And I'll say to him, "How much are those sneakers you want?" He'll say, "$220." How many hours do you think you have to work at the local grocery store as a 15-year-old, after taxes, after everything, after me making you put money in a college fund or whatever I make you do with it -- how many hours do you think you have to work? It's like 30, you probably have to work 30 hours, maybe even more. That might be three weeks, three and a half weeks, in school, working eight to 10 hours a week. It doesn't register. So I very much want him to have a job.
Lapera: Yeah, I totally sympathize with that. One of the really great things about getting a job is it really does teach kids what the value of money is. An especially great way to do this is to have them cash their check and have physical cash, because it's so much harder to part with that dollar when you're physically handing it over to someone. And good Lord knows that I know that, because I used to work in the service industry, and I would leave with, you would mostly get tipped with $1 bills and $5 bills, so I'm sure the lady at the bank thought I did something else, but I would leave the bar with these stacks of $500 worth of $1 bills. It's harder to pay for groceries because you have a ton of $1 bills, but it's also a lot harder because it's like, ugh.
Kline: They call that the stripper's dilemma. You pay your rent in a thousand $1 bills. I just made that up. That's not a thing.
Lapera: It's actually funny, I used to have my dad go and deposit my money at the bank for me, because he was retired at the time and was happy to do favors for me. And apparently the first time he went in, it was a really small-town bank, and the lady was like, "Oh, this is a lot of money, sir." And he was like, "Oh, yeah, it's from my daughter!" And she stares at him with these big, wide eyes. And he's like, "No! No, she's a bartender! It's OK, I checked out the bar, it's an OK place to work! I take care of my family!"
Kline: There's all of those dilemmas. As a parent, if your kid has an after-school job, is it taking away from their studies? Is it stopping them from doing an extracurricular activity? And I'm fine with my son not working if his off-time is focused. I'm all in favor of having some down time, playing some video games, swimming in the pool, do whatever you want. But if he's going to spend three or four hours playing video games, that to me is not the equivalent of saying, "I want to volunteer at the soup kitchen." If you want to do that instead of working, that's fabulous. If he throws himself into learning how to paddleboard or whatever ridiculous thing he likes, I'm fine with that, as long as it's a useful pursuit. But actually making money and learning how to deal with that and what it takes, it's not just about the money. We've both had bad jobs. We've talked about this before.
Kline: It teaches you what you don't want to do. Not that I was going to become a professional coat check -- I don't know that that's a job. But one of my first jobs was being a coat check. And on the surface it's a dream job. You do nothing for three and a half out of four hours. The caterer feeds you, so you get a good meal, as long as you're nice to them. But what I hadn't banked on is that I worked at a temple, and every man had the same brown raincoat and lost his coat check. So at the end of the night, it was just a half-hour of miserable chaos of people being like, "Oh, it's the brown L.L. Bean raincoat." Like, [laughs] that's every coat here! So I knew that the trade-off of having three and a half hours where I could read a book was not worth the half-hour. So for me, work has always been about being steadily engaged. I learned that at a very young age, that I wasn't in pursuit of easy; I was in pursuit of busy. And I think you've learned, you aren't doing what you set out to do, in a very delightful way.
Lapera: Yeah, absolutely not. I think this is also a really important facet of kids working, because it's a really low-stakes way of trying a lot of different jobs. I have worked at horseback-riding barns, I've bartended, I've tutored. I also had paid internships, which I think should also count as jobs even if they're limited term, I've had unpaid internships as well at the Smithsonian, at the U.S. Senate, all sorts of different places.
Kline: It's all about experiences.
Lapera: And I learned that I didn't want to be in politics after working at the Senate. I learned that I would not be a good teacher after volunteering with special-needs kids. Like, it's a really good way to learn what you're good at. The job that I have now, I work as an analyst and an editor -- I started working as an editor when I was 19 at an internship, a paid internship. If you can get those, those are the best.
Kline: Wow, as an editor, that's tough to come by these days.
Lapera: It was actually a biological anthropology internship. We had all these manuscripts constantly revolving through the office that were up to be published, and I was kind of a cheap way to edit all this stuff before they went to an official editor. And the longer the editor took to edit it, the more they charged, so it was way better to run it through me first. That's where I learned all my skills. But it's a good way to try a lot of different things. I think the other thing it's really good for -- so, learning about money, figuring out what you want to do, and learning how to be professional.
Kline: The interns here at Fool have figured that out. Not every intern I've dealt with has quite mastered that.
Lapera: Yeah. It's really important to know, like, you have to show up on time for your job or you lose it.
Kline: This is something we've talked about in our career content a lot. The colleges do not do a good job teaching kids how to get a job. Going to an office and learning -- and the Fool is pretty casual, as you can tell by what we're wearing, though we're both wearing very formal outfits under the table, but on the top, very informal.
Lapera: Basically tuxedos.
Kline: But some places you go, they expect you to wear a suit. Or there's a different standard, maybe a uniform. And kids are not prepared for this. So you're going to make mistakes. If you're an intern, you are going to learn, at this company, every meeting starts five minutes early, or five minutes late. I worked at a very large company that, because the conference rooms were booked wall to wall, 2:00 to 3:00, one ended at 3:00 and one started at 3:00, your meeting could never start until five minutes late. Learning whatever those corporate cultures are, whatever the ethics are, how you approach the boss, and you find out different things about yourself. My first job, real professional adult job, was working at a magazine doing their phonebook. And it was a lot of faxing, getting people to fill out forms and proofreading and making sure it was right. And the boss there, who is still the boss there, was a yeller.
Lapera: Oh, no.
Kline: But it was all bluster, and there was nothing there. So I learned right away that this doesn't bother me. I can put up with a boss who explodes, because he might be really mad, but I know he'll get over it very quickly. So I learned that I could work for this type of person. And it helped me get a leg up at a place where a lot of people didn't want to work. It wasn't always super pleasant. But you start to figure stuff out. You learn, even though everyone always said you'd be a good lawyer, you don't want to be a lawyer. In fact, you hate the concept of being a lawyer.
Lapera: Yeah. But it's even those skills that are required to operate in a professional environment. Like I mentioned, timeliness, coming to work, completing your work at all. I sometimes think -- because, I was a graduate teaching assistant at the University of Nebraska, and I used to teach students who I always thought, if you'd ever had a job you would know this behavior doesn't work in the real world. When you get homework and you don't turn it in, the consequence is that you get a bad grade. For a lot of kids, it didn't seem to really matter to them that much. But I'm like, if you're out in the real world and you don't turn in your work, you can get fired and then you have no money.
Kline: It amazes me. I've done a lot of things, as we've talked about. I've been a journalist and an editor a lot of my career. And you would get kids -- what I would do is, I'd do the interview, and I would bring them in for a day, and I would give them two stories. And the normal workload at a small paper is two stories. And I would give them softballs, things that, your sourcing was easy, but you had to go find people. And if, at the end of the day, they couldn't hand me two stories, they didn't get the job. Because there's a newspaper tomorrow, and if you don't hand in your story, there's a hole in it. And it's just a fact of life. If you can't handle that, and you don't have six contingencies for everything you're working on, you don't fit in that profession. I think that can be a very tough lesson to learn.
Lapera: I think the other type of skill that's really good to have, and knowledge to have in general, is how to get a job. How to interview. And also, not being scared of working. I went to school with a couple of kids who graduated college and had never worked before. They didn't even work in college, like, at the local ice cream parlor for fun money. Nothing. So they were all so scared to go to their first job, because they'd never been out in the real world and worked with other people. And realistically, most people out there are not super geniuses. You're not going to get to your first job and be the dumbest one there or the worst one there. You're probably average, if anything.
Kline: You talked about working in an ice cream parlor. I ran a giant toy store. While that turned out to not be my life's work, you learn a lot of things. And you say -- the kids who worked for me, mostly kids, in that store, they learned what it was like to get yelled at by a jerk. Not me, the customers.
Lapera: [laughs] Yep.
Kline: So if you have a customer who, sometimes it's ridiculous. It was a hobbyist who wanted a color of paint that hadn't been made in 20 years, and we made every effort to show them what we did have and could get, and they would scream at you. Well, in the real world, people scream at you sometimes. And you have to learn how to handle that professionally, and how to move on. So putting your kids in work situations where they interact with people where they have to learn that life isn't fair -- sometimes someone can be terrible to you, and you have to sit there and say, "Yes, sir, I'm sorry that you're not happy." And obviously there's a point where it pushes into abuse, where the manager has to get involved and escort someone from the room. But whether it's being a busboy or any level of public interaction, or even just working in a back office doing filing, the world isn't pleasant. And I have had some young employees who, in the journalism video game space, had never been criticized. And when, in the normal round of them handing in their work, I would say, "It would be nice if you had a shot of that," literally as mild as that, tears.
So you have to make sure your kids are ready. It's just like in sports -- if you don't keep score and everybody gets a trophy, the first time you do keep score and your kid realizes he lost, it's going to be very bad. So they need that experience, especially the academically gifted ones, of not being good at something. Were you really great at your job at the Fool, as good as you are now, on day one?
Lapera: Absolutely not.
Kline: I wasn't. I worked with our former editorial director. I think four of my first five ideas were rejected -- flat-out, "We're not publishing this, it's terrible." And I had 15 years of journalism experience at that point. You have to get a hard skin, and you have to learn that really early on.
Lapera: I think it's helpful -- you're just going to have an easier time of it when it's time to be on your own. And the other thing I wanted to circle back to touch on is, we talked a little bit about trying all sorts of different jobs to figure out what you want to do. I wish that more people, before they went to college, did this, because I think there's a lot of people in college who don't really need to be there at that moment. It's important to know that college is not just for 18-year-olds. Sure, there's great networking opportunities, but if what you really want to be is a tradesman, if you want to be a plumber or an electrician or whatever it is, it's OK to not go to school -- well, to not go to college, because you have to go to school to be an electrician, hopefully. It's a very dangerous job.
Kline: My electrician just makes it up. [laughs] He's dead now.
Lapera: [laughs] No, but, it's really important to think about -- is college the best place for you right now? I think we really, unfortunately, push young people to go straight into college after high school, when maybe that's not the best course for 100% of them.
Kline: It's also important to gain life experiences. I'm not saying do the fanciful trip to Europe where you do nothing and hang out at the beach. But if you want to go volunteer for six months, if you want to go work on a cruise ship, we've talked about this a lot, Vince and I, on the other show -- if you don't do things when you're young, before you have a mortgage and kids, it becomes that much harder to do them. So if you really want to move someplace obscure and be a crab fisherman for two years, it's not going to ruin your life. I have an aunt who is now a very successful businesswoman who didn't go to college until her thirties, because she pursued a lot of things, and she had a lot of amazing experiences. And that's OK. And it makes you a better college student.
Lapera: Yes, it does, because by the time you get to college, you really want to be at college for the academics, and not just for the social scene, which makes a huge difference.
Kline: The other thing I'll say about college is, if you do go, academics are a part of it. And yes, if you want to go to medical school or law school, your grades are very important. But if you don't, if grad school or general grad school is in your future, make sure that you try everything. We talked about, I was the editor of the newspaper, I did a radio show, I did a television show, and I learned that I didn't want to work in television because I couldn't stand the bureaucracy of college television, so I wasn't going to like it in the real world. But maybe I would have found out that I didn't like newspapers. So try different things. Join every club you can and experience it. Intern places. Job-shadow. You get a six-week vacation at most schools. If you think you might want to be a high school principal, call the principal of your old high school up and say, "Hey, I'd love to spend the day following you around." Maybe you want to be an ice cream man. Go ride the ice cream truck for the day, and you'll learn that you don't want to be an ice cream man, would be my guess.
Lapera: And this is relevant to high school students, middle school students, college students, everyone. And that's also a really good professional skill to foster -- contacting people you don't know and asking them for something. The worst they can do is say no. Sometimes they attach mean words to it, but mostly just "no," or not respond.
Kline: Generally it's non-response. Because most people want to be a hero. And maybe that principal will write back and say, "I'm happy to talk to you, but privacy rules mean that you can't shadow me for the day." There's always going to be little hiccups. But that's a person you then know. That's someone, a year from now, when you're in school, you can say, "Hey, would you take this class or that class, and how would it help you?" Amass relationships, and do things that scare you. I'm a journalist, and it still scares me to walk into a store and talk to a stranger for a story. So, do it. Make yourself do it, because you'll get better. And you'll learn, is this something I can get past, and I'll be good at this job? Or is this something that -- I spent a few years as a salesman. Cold-calling as a salesman is miserable. And I was good at it, but I don't ever want to do it again, because you spent all night basically throwing up and being nervous about what's going to happen, and it wasn't worth it. The other thing we talked about before is, it's not just about what you do. It's about the life you expect. Because if you're someone who wants certain things -- you want to be able to have season tickets to the Red Sox, or the Nationals around here, I think that's still a team -- you want the fancy house, or you love cars and want a Porsche or whatever it is, well, a schoolteacher may not be the way to go. And you have to balance those things.
Lapera: Yeah. This is getting into another topic about how you should pick the career for you, which I'm more than happy to have you on the show for in the future. But just to wrap things up, Dan and I both think that your kid should work.
Kline: Work for us, if they're looking. [laughs] No, we don't have jobs.
Lapera: We don't have jobs. But we think that kid should work, especially if they're not pursuing anything else with their time. It teaches them how to be professional, it teaches them how to manage their money, and it also helps them figure out what they want to do, at least for the next little while. I'm not going to say for the rest of their lives, because that's very dramatic, and you can always change your career if you want to. Again, another good topic for a future episode. And they're doing all this in a very low-stakes environment. That's our summation of the show. But to finish the show, I wanted to ask you a fun question, which is: What is the worst career advice you have ever received?
Kline: Don't job-hop would probably be it. There was a prevailing wisdom for a long time that you should pick a company, and no matter how miserable you are, follow it through. As if you're going to go work -- and I'm not picking this company for any reason, but you're going to go to Time Warner, they're an editorial company, and you're going to start as an intern, and someday you're going to be CEO or editor in chief, or whatever. That's an outdated logic. Maybe you're not getting it as much, generationally younger. But the company I worked for in college was my first job. And when I went to my mother and said, after about 18 months, "I'm leaving and I'm going to work for a guitar magazine in New York City. The money is a little bit better, but it's just cooler, it'll be fun," she said, "But if you stay where you are, you'll get a promotion in another two years." And the guy who replaced me stayed for 19 years. So it was an option. I could have stayed. But, honestly, when you're young, don't spend three months at a job, unless it's a three-month job. But be someplace a year and be willing to say, "I want to try something different, I want to do something new." And then, when you're ready, when you find the right thing, you'll be in a better position to know what you want and have that career. And then, you can stay in one place, as I have here at Fool for four or five years now.
Lapera: That is much grander, significantly bad career advice than I was expecting. I can tell you what my worst career advice was. I remember this vividly, I was at a New Year's Eve party and a woman came up to me, and she thought that I was married to my father, which was embarrassing, to say the least, and she said to me, "What are you doing?" And I was like, "I'm in high school. I'm 16." She was like, "Oh, you know what you should do? When you're 18, you should join a cruise ship and become a waitress, because then you can meet someone and get married to them and you never have to work." I think, hands down, that is the worst career advice that I've ever received in my entire life.
Kline: [laughs] So, you tried that, right?
Lapera: Oh, yeah, definitely. It's part of what we were talking about, trying things in a low-stakes environment. But, anyway, thank you so much for joining me -- I was going to say "us." It's me and Austin. Hey, Austin.
Kline: Thank you for having me.
Lapera: I'm sure we would love to have you again. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or by tweeting us @MFIndustryFocus. I'd really love some pictures of ponies, as mentioned earlier. If not, you can give us a few more show ideas, or we can ask Austin for more puppy pictures. Thank you, Austin, for being our producer. Austin, what was your first job?
Austin Morgan: My grandfather owned a construction company, so I would sweep floors and clean windows all summer long, pick up trash, all summer.
Lapera: And I see that you are not a construction worker.
Morgan: No I'm not.
Lapera: All right, everyone, thank you so much for listening and have a great week.