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Summer jobs then and now: What well-known locals say first jobs taught them

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, teens may not always have a summer job because other activities may be more beneficial when it comes to building their resumes and college applications. Thinkstock / Special to The Forum

FARGO — If you were born anywhere between 1946 and 1981, there's a pretty good chance you held down a summer job as a teenager. Whether it was lifeguarding, flipping burgers or working at an ice cream parlor, a summer job was almost a rite of passage for many Baby Boomers and Gen Xers.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the majority of teens in the '70s and '80s held summer jobs, hitting its high point in 1988 when 70 percent of teens worked during the summer. But by the summer of 2014, only about 35 percent of Americans aged 16 to 19 were working.

What's up? Are we raising a generation of bums?

Hardly. In fact, it might be just the opposite. A study by the BLS says many students today are filling their time with other activities they (and their parents) think are potentially more advantageous to their future — everything from participating in sports camps to earn athletic scholarships, to taking summer school for college credit or academic scholarships to volunteer work, all of which looks good on college and job applications. With college tuition on the rise, the BLS says parents see minimum wage jobs as little help with future college costs.

But summer jobs are about more than a paycheck.

We asked a few well-known people in Fargo-Moorhead to tell us about the summer jobs they held as teens. We were shocked to hear what some of these people did to earn a few dollars — from digging graves to detasseling corn.

The work was hard — sometimes back-breaking and bug-slapping — but most say those summer jobs helped them, directly or indirectly, on their eventual career path.

Read about their first summer jobs by clicking on their name:

Picking rocks and other summer nuggets

The most common job among the people we interviewed?

Rock picking — where kids pick up rocks in farm fields that could damage crops and equipment. Katie Ettish of the West Fargo Park Department spent long summer days picking rocks and so did Vettel and Wallevand.

Other times, first summer jobs foreshadowed future careers. Along with TJ Nelson's role as a radio DJ, Forum editor Matt Von Pinnon's first job was a paperboy for The Forum. However, WDAY-TV Sportscaster Dom Izzo future career aspirations may have hindered his first job. He was fired from Wendy's because he started doing play-by-play with the restaurant's microphone.

Summer 2018: Apply here

One of the most popular places for teens to work is with local parks and recreation departments. Approximately 750 spring and summertime workers will be hired by the Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo parks and recreation departments. Jobs range from maintenance work to selling concessions to coaching.

"We have a little something for everyone," says Fargo Parks Executive Director Joel Vettel. "We're always going to be looking for more good people."

In Moorhead, recreation program supervisor Melissa Discher says she's actually having to turn away some really great applicants because they have so many people coming back.

"I think of it as the highest compliment we can get that we have a really high level of returning staff," she says. "It's nice to know they enjoy their work."

The departments can hire teenagers as young as 14 in limited roles, but most of their employees are 15 and older.

Many times the jobs are the result of a natural evolution.

"They start as kids in some of these programs and then grow up to become coaches," says Katie Ettish of West Fargo Parks and Rec. "These are great first jobs. You learn a little responsibility and the hours usually work really well."

Vettel agrees.

"We love being the first job for people to kick off their employment career," he says.

Tracy Briggs

Tracy Briggs is a former TV anchor/radio host currently working as a features writer and video host for Forum Communications.

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