Sweet rewards: A job scooping ice cream taught one time-strapped teen valuable lessons

Simeon Lancaster chills inside the walk-in freezer at Izzy's Ice Cream, a St. Paul staple in the summertime.
Photo By: Submitted
Life isn’t going to calm down for any of us teens soon, so learning how to balance a jam-packed lifestyle now is going to lead to fewer scheduling headaches in the future.

Growing up in St. Paul’s Merriam Park neighborhood created a rather idyllic childhood experience, especially in the summer. On the exceptionally hot days, I, along with my older brothers, would frequently seek refuge from the heat in the cool, air-conditioned library.

As refreshing as this was, my favorite childhood memory of beating the heat had nothing to do with books, but instead ice cream. Just a couple blocks further than the library was — and still is — Izzy’s Ice Cream Café.

This was not my favorite place to chill (quite literally) only for the sake of the cotton candy ice cream and the delectable waffle cone aroma, but also because the staff wasn’t that much older than me and always seemed to be in a perpetual state of happiness.

I am now 17 years old, heading into my fourth year working at Izzy’s and training as a shift leader. Ever since I was hired in March 2010, I have gained much more than an income from holding a job in high school. The sense of responsibility, in addition to the personal connections and experience gained from my employment, has proven invaluable.

Those rewards turned out to be something I never expected from a simple, after school, part-time job. It didn’t, however, come easy. Just like most things in life, in order to receive, you must first commit and invest. I have found this to be true, particularly in holding a job as a teen.

Part of the reason I applied at Izzy’s before any other business was because I saw the staff was made up of teens. Not only could I relate to and get along with them, but I also saw the amount of responsibility and trust placed in their hands. I found Izzy’s to be unique in this way. If the employee is willing to invest and commit to Izzy’s, the higher-ups are more likely to invest back in the employees, giving them more opportunity to take on new positions.

I’ll admit, this high level of involvement caught me by surprise. Being a 14-year-old, I expected a dish washing or scooping position. Of course, that’s where I started, but I soon found that just because I was young didn’t mean I had to stick to simple roles. Within the first couple weeks, I recognized that working at Izzy’s was about establishing a relationship with management who were there to help you expand your horizons and gain experiences that are valuable later in life, such as customer relations, solving problems on your feet, teamwork, time management, budgeting, and many more that you learn about in school but rarely get to practice daily in real life scenarios.

LEARNING VALUABLE SKILLS

One reason I’ve found Izzy’s so enjoyable — besides the ice cream, of course — is the rest of the staff. Over the years, I’ve formed some great friendships and learned to manage my relationships on a professional level. Of course, working with your friends every day is part of the enjoyment, but you can’t forget that you’re working. Learning to recognize how to professionally interact with your friends while on the clock helps establish social tact and gracefulness in professional scenarios, something I have put to use many times.

Then there’s the work right behind the counter. Let me start with an illustration. It’s a hot summer night, about 95 degrees outside. There’s nine people packed into the four-foot-wide space behind the counter and about 80 customers in a folded line that stretches out the door. It’s at these frequent moments that teamwork is essential to effectively serve customers. With employees dodging from flavor to flavor, it can look quite chaotic from the outside. But from the inside, things are swaying calmly like an intricate dance — each scooper aware of the level of ice cream, the scoop that’s about to break and the nearby support. This high-speed teamwork is something that can only be learned, yet can prove to be an incredibly useful skill in fast-paced, intense, teamwork scenarios.

As I’ve progressed through high school, one thing I’ve noticed is my schedule has grown exponentially. With the addition of sports, journalism and other extra-curricular activities, a job just ended up being one more thing to juggle. Additionally, as a teen, social activities with friends are high on the list, and having a time-draining job might not be worth it if you never get to kick back.

When first applying, I asked questions like, “Will I have enough time for homework?” or “Is having a job going to keep me from focusing on school?” I was a little worried about this, and I occasionally still feel the effects. But looking back now, I can say that my overly busy schedule has been for the best.

Not only does throwing a job into your hectic life help with school, but making sure I have enough time between class, tennis practice and my closing shift to shower and eat a quick dinner has made me an expert in time management. Life isn’t going to “calm down” for any of us teens soon, so learning how to balance a jam-packed lifestyle now is going to lead to fewer scheduling headaches in the future.

CUSTOMER IS ALWAYS RIGHT

Speaking of headaches, one of the most frustrating experiences an employee can have is when a customer complains. Despite the legitimacy of a customer argument or claim, it throws you off your feet for a second and forces you to step out of whatever you were doing.

Working as a scooper, this is not a rare experience. Fortunately, I think this has led to one of the most valuable things I have gained from holding a job as a teen. Customer relations are, of course, not something that can only be gained at an ice cream café, but that’s where I’ve had the majority of my important interactions. Learning to address the customer in a respectful, yet affirmative way is a big feather in the hat of interpersonal communication.

Bottom line: Someone is unhappy and expects you to do something about it. This one will never get old and will always prove to be a useful skill.

After four years at Izzy’s, having a part-time job as a teen – while at times a struggle – has ultimately has given me more skills and experience than I could have gained any other way. Best of all, it has given me independence. Having an income, no matter the size, is a huge help. In addition, gaining responsibility and the knowledge that people are counting on you helps increase self-confidence and motivation. Knowing that I have a large repertoire of skills that I will be able to apply to many other areas of life – including future employment – I now feel much more confident and ready for the next stage of life.

If you’re considering adding a job during high school, here’s some free advice: Find a place you could see yourself enjoying and be willing to treat it as more than a job. If you are prepared to put a little extra effort and enthusiasm into your work, you will be rewarded with skills and experience that you simply can’t gain elsewhere.

Does working during high school HELP or HURT teens?

Jeylan Mortimer, a professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota, has some answers. Mortimer has studied the same 1,000 people from St. Paul since 1987. When the study began, they were 9th graders. Now they are about 40 years old.

Mortimer’s longitudinal study, which involves analyzing the same group of people over an extended period, allowed her to determine how choices teens made in high school affected them later on.

Here’s what she found: Working during high school has some benefits, particularly for teens who consistently worked fewer than 20 hours a week. Among the highlights: It developed time management skills, the ability to handle stress later on, strengthened teens’ sense that they can accomplish their goals, and helped teens who didn’t plan to attend college get better jobs when they graduated.

If you’re looking for work in high school, here’s some advice from Mortimer:

• Don’t work so much that it crowds out studies, friendships and extracurricular activities you care about.

• If you can’t find paid work, look for a chance to try out a field you’re interested in by volunteering, interning or “job shadowing” an experienced worker.

• Avoid working more than 20 hours a week.

• Stay away from hazardous jobs or positions that are highly stressful and provide few opportunities to learn.

• Think about your long-range goals. If you want to graduate from a four-year college, you’re likely to benefit from having a steady job, but one that is limited to 20 or fewer hours per week. Working more than 20 hours a week is more beneficial to teens who want to move quickly from school to work.

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