Helping your kids manage an after-school job


In my last two years of high school, I worked two or three nights a week as a kitchenhand in a local restaurant. I loved the job, the money and the independence it gave me. It taught me how to juggle my time and the money I was earning.

But it was hard to sustain the late hours while going to school five days a week. It wasn't great for my grades either.

As the restaurant's dishwasher and plater of entrees and desserts, I worked until all the diners finished. Then I would have to get home: a very slow bus trip and a long walk. Sometimes I would get a lift, which meant waiting around for others to finish.

part time jobs for teenagers

Aussie kids working part-time

Around half of all Aussie school kids work part-time, mostly around 10 hours a week. But a growing number put in much longer hours.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), there has been a jump in the number of 15- to 19-year-olds working between 20 and 29 hours a week.

In May, there were 116,000 young people in that age group working those hours, which is equivalent to around three or more full-time days. This number is up by 20% from May 2019, according to the ABS.

While most of my earnings went to paying school fees, increasingly kids with part-time jobs are handing over their pay to their financially stretched parents to help with cost-of-living pressures: rent, mortgage, food and heating. They make a vital contribution to the family budget.

Helping your teenager find a job

Teenage school students are finding it easy to secure a job because there has been a shortage of workers, especially in hospitality and low-skilled areas.

Each state and territory has its own laws to make sure a child's employment arrangements are fair and legal. But before kids sign up for a part-time job, there are pros and cons that parents should discuss with them.

It is good to start with a job that takes up less than 10 hours a week, or is in the school holidays, to see how they cope.

Does it suit their abilities, school and family responsibilities?

how to help your teenager get a part time job

The cost of starting work young

I didn't factor in how my job would impact me. I was tired and recall getting to school late sometimes. I didn't do any homework on work nights. I didn't have much time to catch up with friends or to exercise.

I didn't spend much time with my family and sometimes I looked for that connection with older people who had volatile tempers and different moralities.

One of my bosses had affairs with the waitresses and even the girlfriend to his restaurant partner. This resulted in a fist fight that moved from the kitchen to the restaurant one night. While it was a useful, eye-opening life experience, it was challenging for someone my age.

Co-curricular activities, such as team sports, can be valuable for your child's future but may be sacrificed with a part-time job. My regular theatre appearances stopped when I began working.

Strike the right balance

There is a debate about how much part-time work school kids should take on. Of course, parents want the hours to be manageable and not interfering with schoolwork.

You also want an employer who has some flexibility, so that if it is exam time you can take a break from your job.

What was different about my school days is that all my higher school certificate marks were from final exams, not continuous assessments. I could cram for the final exam, but kids these days have to perform continuously through their final years.

Not surprisingly, international research shows that homework in reasonable doses has positive benefits for students overall, particularly in high school. This may not be reassuring for kids who have to work to support family finances.

Data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development shows that extra study at home is rewarded by better test scores. It based this on evidence from the 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which is a series of standardised tests similar to NAPLAN.

Testing of more than 28 million 15-year-olds in 65 countries showed that among the highest-achieving schools in maths, "students saw an increase of 17 score points or more per extra hour of homework" - a significant improvement.

Schools provide guidelines about expected levels of homework. Independent schools, which typically set more homework than public schools, recommend that in years 9 and 10 students should put in two hours of homework per night. In year 11, they recommend three hours while in year 12 it's three-and-a-half hours.

Make sure your teen is coping with having a job

Keep an eye on how your child is coping with a part-time job. Employers can be pushy. If your child's work is affecting their health and wellbeing, it might be best to consider other options. They should look for another job or take a break.

There are some good government resources to help school students navigate part-time work, such as identifying if it is trustworthy and reliable as well as being useful for them.

Consideration of the working hours, location, whether your child will be working alone or in a team, supervision and training are all important. There are links to the laws for teenagers and part-time work in each state and territory.

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Traps in unpaid internships

Young people are so keen for a job in industries such as media, public relations, law, creative arts and not-for-profits that they will gladly take an unpaid internship to gain experience and have it on their CV.

As well, internships are now a compulsory part of some courses, such as communications, some health services and social work.

But parents and kids need to recognise that not only do interns have to support themselves during their unpaid work, they must also pay their own travel costs. Parents also have to make sure their kids are covered by their health insurance.

This can lead to kids and young adults weighing up whether to take an internship or work part-time.

Fair Work Australia's investigation into internships found a growing number of businesses that used to pay employees now use unpaid interns to do the same work.

It says students need to be sure they are benefitting from the unpaid work and being trained and learning new skills.

For many businesses, internships are a common prelude to paid work. They can check out potential employees before offering them a job.

Fair Work's report contains interviews with many students who have had successful experiences as interns. Some of the case studies say their internships were positive and even though they weren't paid, they don't regret it as they now work in the industry.

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Susan has been a finance journalist for more than 30 years, beginning at the Australian Financial Review before moving to the Sydney Morning Herald. She edited a superannuation magazine, Superfunds, for the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia, and writes regularly on superannuation and managed funds. She's also author of the best-selling book Women and Money.