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Summer jobs don’t pay

By Brianna Liestman

A recent article on NPR compares the earning power of a summer job in 1982 versus 2017, and for many reasons it should concern the boating industry.

In short, the article shows that an average college student receiving no help from parents needed to work either nine hours a day, seven days a week for three straight months or 16 hours a week year round to pay for school with a"summer job." Certainly doable. In 2017, a student needs to work 21.9 hours a day over 90 days or 37 hours a week year round.

This isn’t great – especially when you consider that research shows students’ studies suffer when they work more than 20 hours a week, which seems counter productive considering the whole point of attending college is to learn and be prepared for the working world.

A simple solution might seem to be “don’t go to college,” but by the time many students figure out how the numbers add up (or don’t), it’s too late. Not that I would know from experience or anything.

There are several reasons why this matters to our industry. It first of all illustrates the level of debt students are in post college. The $14,275 a year the hypothetical student in the NPR article is on the hook for multiplies every year they are in school. Many students will make the same choice I did – focus on studies, keep the job for extra spending money as needed during the year, worry about paying off the college education later. That debt will keep them from buying a house, getting married, having kids and buying a boat as early as previous generations did. This is our uphill battle when it comes to affordability and attracting younger buyers, and it does not appear to be getting any easier.

It’s also significant considering how little the student is making in a summer job compared to their 1982 counterpart. If getting a summer job doesn’t pay, what’s the incentive? It should hopefully make employers think about what they are willing to pay for their much-needed summer help to attract employees. You don’t have to be out there championing a $15/hour minimum wage increase across the board handed down by the government, but if you care about attracting good employees, wage growth should be a high priority for you.

And for our industry, it’s a huge opportunity to promote our jobs. The average minimum wage job pays $7.25/hour, but according to the Marine Retailers Association for the Americas’s 2017 Compensation Study, the top three summer jobs pay, on average, $10/hour (gas dock attendant), $13/hour (storage runner/yard & marina attendant) and $13.50/hour (yard staff/porter). I arrived at those numbers by taking the 50th percentile for annual salary of each job, divided that number by 52 weeks and then 40 hours a week.

That makes it a lot more likely the student will be able to afford paying off school. We’re already doing a lot better than other summer employers, and instead of being stuck in a fluorescent, air-conditioned retail store that plays the same 50 songs on repeat over 90 days (again, not that I have experience with this or anything), college students get outside and on the water.

These are the things our industry should be using to promote summer jobs and attract workers. As we all know, those summer workers may become your general manager, marketing director or service writer in the future.

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