Vocational Development and Occupational Attainment

Working during high school may have direct short-term influences on occupational and income attainments during the years immediately following high school, as many young people stay with (or rejoin) employers for whom they worked while attending high school; these jobs are often held by students who are simultaneously pursuing post-secondary education (Mortimer and Johnson, 1998). Young workers may also learn job-seeking skills, including where to look or whom to consult for job information, how to complete application forms and other paperwork, and how to conduct themselves at job interviews. Early contacts at work could constitute early "social capital," providing useful information for future job searches. Young people may also obtain, through paid work, some understanding of the job market and their degree of competitiveness and worth in relation to other job applicants. Lowe and Krahn (1992) found that Canadian high school graduates who had worked during high school were less likely to be willing to accept "menial" jobs than were those with no work experience. They also found that employment had a positive effect on an economic literacy test (which covered such topics as diminishing returns, opportunity costs, and demand theory). Greenberger and colleagues (1980) report that adolescent workers are more likely than nonworkers to have personal checking and savings accounts, credit cards, and financial responsibilities.

Working during high school could affect young people's vocational development and success by influencing their work ethics, commitments to employment, and understandings of the routines and requirements of the workplace. Because vocational issues are particularly salient during adolescence, it is plausible to expect that initial work experiences would have a formative influence on the development of work attitudes and habits. The quality of work, as well as the social context of working, may be particularly important for the development of work-related values and attitudes. Adolescents who helped their families economically during the Great Depression by working in part-time jobs developed clear vocational goals and commitment to their careers (Elder, 1974). By contrast, relatively few urban youth today give even a portion of their earnings to help support their families. Steinberg and Cauffman (1995)

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