Finding a first job in Canberra
September 11, 2010 5:34 AM   Subscribe

What are some non-obvious ways of encouraging an 18-year-old who has never held a real job to get out there and really get looking?

I have two sons who live apart from me--about ten thousand miles apart. No problem with the father-son relationship, I stress. The elder has a job and a girlfriend and is going to university next year. The younger has no job and no girlfriend and is bored out of his mind. He assures me that he really is looking for a job, and I'm sure that he really is. But I dread the possibility that he will simply let the boredom get the better of him and stop trying. He isn't the most confident kid and I think this might be a lot of the problem. So, Canberra mefites and anyone else who cares to offer a suggestion--some ways to boost his confidence, to fill up the inevitable gap in his CV, and to ward off the grand ennui?

He had some part-time work while he was in high school, so he isn't completely without work experience, but this will be his first "real" job.

He knows about the obvious ways of finding work and I've already suggested that he look around for volunteer work (he has in fact done a little of this) and that he look at joining the reserve armed forces.
posted by Logophiliac to Work & Money (27 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
One argument that didn't work on me was the "we can't afford to keep you" logic. If you're going to say that, you at least need to explain how come you've managed it for the last 18 years, and it has suddenly become a problem.
posted by curious_yellow at 5:48 AM on September 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

Thanks, curious_yellow, but I already know that won't work on him. It wouldn't have worked on me either. Straight bullying is no use either, not that I'd do it anyway. What I'm trying to get is some creative ways of getting him out there with a bit of fire in his eye.
posted by Logophiliac at 5:52 AM on September 11, 2010

does he have something expensive that he wants? Car? Computer?
I was going to say start charging rent, but he doesn't live with you, so that's out.
Give him a goal to work towards.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 5:57 AM on September 11, 2010

I know he doesn't live with you, but do you give him money? Needing money is the best motivation to get a job. My parents simply refused to support us once we were 18. Even if we lived at home, we still had to pay some kind of rent, or we were out. Also, starting in HS they stopped paying for certain things, like new clothes, haircuts, etc. We all got part-time jobs in HS and started being somewhat self-sufficient.

Whoever is supporting him needs to put their foot down. He will be fine.
posted by cottonswab at 6:08 AM on September 11, 2010 [4 favorites]

As you've suggested the Reserves I'll assume your son's relatively physically able-bodied.

Although they're unpaid, potentially a lot less confronting than the khaki-and-guns-and-saluting experience of the Army Reserve might be the State Emergency Services, or the Rural Fire Service.

At the moment SES units in Victoria and southern NSW are helping with flooding evacuation and cleanup, and coming into to the summer the SES and RFS are pretty much guaranteed to be activated to help with bushfire season in the ACT. They train year-round and they're a very wide mix of folk, from retirees to part-time workers, medium landowners and suburban youngsters. They both do training in power tools, in using radios and vehicles, all kinds of machinery, map reading, setting up evacuations, and such.

If you want fire in his eye, perhaps a bit of fire?
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 6:11 AM on September 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

Earning your own money is the only way to be in control of your own life. If you depend upon the money of others, then you can only do what they allow. Independence is the essence of adulthood. Not everyone is ready at the age of 18, but the sooner you take on those challenges, the more you will potentially be able to accomplish.
posted by grizzled at 6:27 AM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Before you get too harsh on him, this is not a kind economy to be looking for work. Do keep that in mind. Unless you know from a source that this is not the case, assume he IS looking for work.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:29 AM on September 11, 2010 [3 favorites]

Set a stop-date on any financial aid you are giving him. Seriously. Nothing makes job-getting (as opposed to job hunting) seem non-essential like having a reliable alternative income. I'm assuming that, 1,000 miles away with no job & still owning an electrical outlet to plug his games into, SOMEONE is enabling his job-lessness.

But I will say, getting out of school was, for me, like dropping off the end of the map. For my entire conscious life there had been very clear definitions of what comes next. Leaving the school environment, dropping into a world that had no specified Next Step for me, and with nobody to take my hand and walk me through the transition as had been done in kindergarden, in grade school, in high school, and College, was completely demoralizing.
posted by Ys at 6:48 AM on September 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

There are no non-obvious ways to encourage him to work. Is he being supported by someone? Cutting off funds would certainly encourage him to find work of some sort. Collecting trolleys, call-centres, labouring... there is work in Canberra for those who want it.

Hell, I could probably get him a labouring job with one phone call. In Canberra. Starting this week. But he'd have to WANT to work.

(I can't promise anything, but if you want to mefimail some details, I can pass on phone numbers to people in the construction industry in Canberra who are always looking for reliable hardworking labourers.)

St Alia, Australia is a much "kinder" economy than the US to find work, at the moment. We have a 5 point something unemployment rate, almost half of the US employment rate, and in my experience... a fair chunk of our 5 point something percent don't want to work, unlike your 9 point something percent who simply can't find work.

posted by malibustacey9999 at 6:53 AM on September 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

It seems a little premature to pull out the "get a job or you're out on your arse" tough love scenarios and I don't really get the impression that was the sort of advice the OP was looking for. I think the ideas about the reserves, SES and RFS are great ones.

Generally, I think at that age it can be most constructive to help flailing teens find a path as much as a job. You know, you leave school where your goals, time and obligations have been structured for you and if you're not going immediately (or at all) into tertiary education, having to find all those skills for yourself and put them together into some sort of structured job hunt is something a lot of young adults are ill-equipped for, especially if you have no concrete skills and little idea what you could do, let alone what you want to do.

A volunteer position that provides training like SES or RFS can be a lifeboat. Obviously if you give a kid every support and opportunity and they follow up on none of them, then it's time to pull out the ultimatums. But some kids need help finding their adult feet and that's an OK need to have, too.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:03 AM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

I would stick to "Do you need any help" -- that is, with resume printing, a new pair of dress shoes, a lesson in tie-tying, a cover-letter proof-reading, somebody to vent at after an interview that went nowhere. Be very careful about doing anything that might be even faintly related to nagging; quite a confidence-killer in my memory. It too easily translates to 'you should have a job by now and you would if there wasn't something wrong,' even if you do not mean it to. Repeated reminders can suggest that the job seeker is failing, not that the job seeker needs to try harder. If you are confident that he is already looking, I would really keep mum apart from "let me know what I can do to help."
posted by kmennie at 7:09 AM on September 11, 2010

I believe the correct phrasing is, "First you get the money, then you get the power, then you get the women." (Assuming we're referring to the same movie--Scarface--of course.)
posted by Gordion Knott at 7:10 AM on September 11, 2010

Ask him if he could do anything, what would it be? Help him figure out a few of these things as if the sky is the limit. Then help him research to identify people in his area who do these things. Have him contact them out of the blue. Have him ask for a meeting to discuss what it is they do. It's amazing how amenable even important and busy people are to talking about themselves and what they do. At these meetings have your son ask these people about what things they do in their jobs each day and what skills they need to do them. Just have him have conversations that show curiosity. It will be a confidence builder when he finds he can actually approach and engage people of means. Towards the conclusion of these conversations, he should ask if each interviewee knows of a way or someone who could help him in his quest to do what he wants. Then he should follow thise leads with the same technique of cold calls and meetings. The people he starts with won't offer him a job, most likely. But they will eventually lead him to the people who will offer him a job he will also be interested in. Most 18 year olds need a lot of help in flying out of the nest. You are on the right track to offer him your support.
posted by 3.2.3 at 7:17 AM on September 11, 2010

As an alternative to insisting he find a job (via cutting off funds,) have you considered an agreement that he be out of the house between certain hours? The mornings work better in my experience - you can still take phone calls from prospective employers in the afternoon, and there's less temptation to flake out and watch a movie for the fifteenth time that month. The mornings can be spent spreading resumes, volunteering, taking long thoughtful walks, etc. - whatever he thinks will be best for him.

I do not recommend driving him to places with an armful of resumes and a command to get rid of them all before you pick him up. This worked on me once, failed five times, never worked on my sisters, and all of us resented it. I am also wary of "call this guy, he has a job for you," just because it means he didn't do it himself and that can cause difficulties long-term.

On the other hand, beating the streets with an armful of resumes really does work - at least for me it did; doing it on my own I tend to get a job on one out of every four or five outings; the third time I had to do it, I got a job offer before my car finished cooling off. If he hasn't tried that, he might give it a go.

Also consider the merits of positive reinforcement - if he can come up with half, you'll do X awesome thing; if he volunteers enough to get three excellent letters of recommendation, it's off to Y place for the both of you. Again with the "heading towards something" thing.

And... don't you guys have something like community college or the UK's Open University? I don't see a problem with insisting he be productive in something, especially if he gets to pick what it is. Success often begets confidence.
posted by SMPA at 7:27 AM on September 11, 2010

If he doesn't live with you, why are you so concerned about this - at least enough to post a question on here.

If we are talking about majority Western culture, he is at a point where your influence on his professional life/endeavors, should be almost non-existent. If he wants to be an astronaut, your response is, "That sounds great!" If he wants to be a video game designer an all he does is play video games as practice, your response should be, "That sounds great!"
If he is trying to find a job and needs money, help him out if you feel like it. If he sits on his butt all day and needs money, tough love.

These things have a way of working themselves out naturally. Don't interfere (and certainly don't feel responsible for him) and natural consequences will take its course.
posted by WhiteWhale at 7:29 AM on September 11, 2010

When I was 18, I was living away from my parents and they gave me enough to cover rent and utilities. When I went to my mom and told her I could barely buy groceries and certainly had no entertainment, she told me I had better go find a job.

Looking back, I really appreciated it. They took care of my absolute necessities so I wouldn't starve, but for anything beyond that, I was on my own. I got a job working retail near the college I went to and I could afford to go out to dinner once in a while or buy myself a new sweater or what have you.

This is, to my mind, appropriate for a student, but I can't tell from your post if your son is actually taking classes at this point. If he's not in school, seems to me that's the best way to work towards getting a good job.
posted by chatongriffes at 8:00 AM on September 11, 2010

A curriculum vitae of lies can sometimes do the trick, get a foot in the door at least, if you can actually do the job but can't prove it without lying.
posted by foxy at 8:50 AM on September 11, 2010

I think that if you fail to get the job you love, the next best thing is a job you’ll hate.

For a young guy that means some kind of hard labour that you can’t escape from.
Tree planting comes to mind, or the Army.

My parents connected me with a cranky Irish Contractor who smoked constantly. I worked for him carrying shingles, digging, cleaning and occasionally swinging a hammer. It was a great experience for me and I had a regular job every summer that left me strong and fit for school.

So, my simple answer is:
find a sympathetic Building Contractor who needs a labourer. If your son shows anything like ambition he will be put to work in no time actually building.

These are skills that he’ll use the rest of his life.
posted by Ignorance at 9:48 AM on September 11, 2010

Seeing as you live so far away, I assume you are not a huge physical presence in your sons life, so your relationship is a lot more delicate than that of a custodial parent. I would be really careful about nagging, and I would not recommend cutting off financial support entirely, since that could damage your long-distance relationship much more than it would damage a more traditional relationship. I would talk to him about his long term life goals - it's not immediate, and thus not seen as nagging. Plus life goals are pretty fun to think about when you're 18. Once you know what his interests are, try to help him get an internship or entry level job. Do you have contacts in his city? Do you just know more about how the business world works? Would he be interested in coming to live with you on the condition that he gets a job (I assume you would have a easier time helping to find him a job near where you live)?
posted by fermezporte at 11:49 AM on September 11, 2010

On second thought, I wrote my response from the perspective that you are a divorced Dad that doesn't have a 100% awesome relationship with your ex-wife. I just saw your last question about the horse transport, is your wife the mother of your two sons? If you do have an awesome relationship with your kid's custodial parent t, you have a lot more options, because you can use the custodial parent to brainstorm and do on the ground legwork, looking for jobs, etc. Also in this case, you can do things like cut off the kid financially without looking like you are just trying to be a jerk to the custodial parent.
posted by fermezporte at 12:01 PM on September 11, 2010

I never even considered getting a job until my parents stopped providing me money. I could sleep there and they provided three meals a day. But any thing else--anything--I had to figure out how to get it myself.

The Big Talk went like this: "We love you, but we want to you be successful and happy. To do that you need to stand on your own two feet, right?" I nodded. "You want to get out there and find your own way, right? You don't want to be one of those guys who's living in their parents basement when they're 3, right?" Oh god, no! "Okay. So your allowance is done. You'll always have a roof over your head with us and you'll never go hungry but unless its for school you're not getting any financial assistance for us again."

It worked. They had talked me into giving up my allowance. Amazing how quickly you're motivated to get a shitty job when you literally have no money to hang out with friends or go to a movie or buy your own brand of soda or buy a video game.

I don't know how you can make this work from a long distance, but that's what worked for me.

(And yes the economy is bad, but there are "Help Wanted" signs out there. They may not be great jobs--in fact I guarantee they're not, but there are jobs.)
posted by Ookseer at 12:14 PM on September 11, 2010

I got a job early on (14) because my mom wouldn't pay for clothes (other than my dress code clothes for school->navy blue suits). So I had lots of motivation. I wanted a job because I wanted money for McDonald's with my friends, jeans and the movies.
posted by beccaj at 12:59 PM on September 11, 2010

fermezporte, my present wife is not the mother of my children--their mother died several years ago. The boys and their stepmother don't get on, so the boys live together in another country. I provide some support but that has to end some time. Philip (the younger boy) is really quite capable but lacks confidence (been there myself).

mali..., thanks for the suggestion but I'll check with him whether he is prepared to give it a go. I don't want to put you to any trouble unless I'm confident he will follow through on it.

Lots of good stuff in this thread! Thanks everybody--I've marked a few answers as "best" but don't let that stop anyone else weighing in.
posted by Logophiliac at 1:40 PM on September 11, 2010

The problem with being 18 and entering the workforce is that you rarely have skills that employers are after. When I was 18, and about to start university, my mother paid for me to do a one week training course in hospitality (bar-tending, coffee-making, waiting tables) that was run by a company that provided hospitality temps for functions around the Canberra Region (They were called "Quest" and were good to work for). After completing the course (which was really fun!) I was employed by them and for the first year of my undergraduate degree I worked functions all over Canberra: at RMC Duntroon, the National Press Club, Questacon etc etc. After that, I was well placed to get a job at a cafe or bar, and it was this kind of work that carried me through until I had enough experience (obtained through volunteer work) to commence other work that was related to my career interests (I'm a scientist, and at the age of 20 I started doing paid work in the field of scientific education).

That is a long time ago now, but I still know how to pour a beer, make a damn good espresso, and carry three plates at one time. Additionally, I tend to think that working in hospitality in one's youth makes one much more likely to be a good customer in your adulthood. You've seen the bad customers, you've dealt with cranky chefs (sorry all Mefite chefs... but you know that there are some of you out there!) or bad employers. Working in hospitality whilst young really does help make you a better, more compassionate customer in the long term. I swear that at any dinner table you can tell the people who worked in hospitality as kids - they'll be the ones who have high expectations, but are understanding of simple mistakes, kitchen errors and are generally nicer to the staff.
posted by Alice Russel-Wallace at 2:52 PM on September 11, 2010

After I graduated from college (US), I was burned out and took a year off. I did not work, travel or do anything productive. I lived at home, and spent A LOT of time couching and watching reruns of "Law and Order." One day, my mom casually said to me, "you like watching that show so much, you should consider becoming a paralegal."

That one comment did many things for me - it showed me that my mom knew about the type of work I'd find interesting, and that she wanted to help me find a way to do it. It demonstrated that my mom was paying attention to me. Yes, I realize how ridiculous that sounds, but even at the age of 22, I always wanted proof of my mom's full and undivided attention towards me.

My advice? Whenever you're interacting with your son, pay careful attention to what he's talking about. Indirectly or not, he will eventually reveal something about himself, his personality, his interests, etc., that endears him to a particular line of career development. That's when you give him a gentle nudge. Repeat as often as necessary. Hope this helps.
posted by invisible ink at 3:06 PM on September 11, 2010

Something I've not seen suggested here, but was suggested in another similar thread -- jackaroo'ing. If your son is at all outdoorsy, he might thoroughly enjoy a "gap" year of riding horses, mustering, etc etc. Would certainly get him out of the nest, teach him "cool" survival skills (damper making for fun and profit! ;), etc etc, as well as providing an income. Certainly, the idea would've appealed to me when I was that age.
posted by coriolisdave at 4:55 PM on September 11, 2010

Once again, thanks everybody!
posted by Logophiliac at 1:34 AM on September 12, 2010

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