Value of vacation jobs

by Aug 11, 2022

The value of vacation jobs

The value of vacation jobs, what they taught you, and how you may have already laid the foundations of your professional life

 

Pamela Paul writes in the New York Times about the value of vacation jobs and the benefits of working as a student during the summer vacations, after school, or at the weekend. This brought upon a bout of nostalgia and a trip down quite a long memory lane as you might imagine. Some of those memories are perhaps best forgotten, but others were warm reminders of how the foundations of my professional life were laid.

In the beginning

In my early career I was always identified in jobs by my gender: “girl,” “lady,” or “maid” and roles ending in “ess.”

My first job was as a “shampoo girl” in a hairdresser in Cardiff. Working for tips, I learned at a very young age the art of selling and upselling. The owner told me years later after I left for university, her sales of hair conditioner fell dramatically. What can I tell you? L’Oreal eat your heart out. She wanted me to go to hairdressing school – who knows where I might be now!

I have had the mixed pleasure of being a hospital “cleaning lady”, where I was never able to overcome my reaction to blood and other body fluids in places other than a body, and correctly contained at that. Medicine clearly had no place in my future. The highlight of the day was smoking in the sluice room with the junior doctors during the break, avoiding the eagle eye of the supervisor Ceridwen, who famously lost her false teeth throwing up after a heavy night out.

I told you these were formative years. Moral of story –  good dental hygiene.

 

value of vacation jobs

High risk

This was followed by stints in hospitality functions in an era before job titles were Hollywood-ized and we were simply called some kind of “maid.”  Bar-maid. Chamber-maid. This was also in the days before sexual harassment was a thing. I encountered situations all women working in a service function accepted as being an occupational hazard and a normal part of the job description.

Coded messages such as “Table 27: WH” (Wandering Hands) or “Room 9: M.W.” (Morning Wood) and other casual warnings were commonplace. These messages were shared in passing in the same way as some might give the heads up on radioactive waste or high voltage wiring. They were essential for safety and survival.

We didn’t get danger money and any complaints for what were considered at the time as minor indiscretions, a “bit of fun” and “boys being boys”, were met with rolled eyes and “get over it” messages.  The term micro-aggressions had yet to be invented.  This was life as women knew it then, and many sadly still do today. So it was not uncommon to “accidentally” spill tea on someone’s lap if you found a stray hand up your skirt groping your ass while you delivered the morning breakfast tray or clearing tables.

I also worked for one week in an office looking for mistakes on computer print-outs.  I was so terrible I was “counselled out” after a week. It was obvious even then that I would never make it as an accountant.

Or perhaps the lure of the excitement of the hospitality industry was too strong to ignore.

Time to rename soft skills as essential skills – 3 Plus International

Lessons learned

What did vacation jobs teach me?  The value of vacation jobs for me was I learned critical social skills, self-advocacy and composure. There are a lot of people who don’t even realise it, but they got off lightly over the years. Yep, I held back.

I realised that I didn’t want to spend a life working in places where it was OK for men to put their hands on my bum or breasts. Which was pretty much everywhere back in the day.

I knew I wanted to do something to change that.

I saw firsthand what life at the bottom of the organisational pile is really like. I hope I learned some humility and respect. I know how to clean a floor, make a nice little fold on loo paper and do hospital corners on beds like a pro. I understood the art of selling and was glad the process never phased me. It served me well in my career.

Clocking on and off was a very early lesson on the value of time. 5 minutes late was 15 minutes deduction. Time = money

And of course, I learned the real life skill of how to spill hot drinks on male laps and make it look like an accident.

 

If your organisation wants to create an inclusive work place to combat sexism and harassment, contact 3Plus.

 

Dorothy Dalton Administrator
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she supports organizations to achieve business success via gender balance, diversity and inclusion. She is CIPD qualified, and a certified coach and trainer including digital learning.
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