Looking at the characteristics of teenager's work: A new approach
University of Paisley
Research has established that the majority of school pupils have experience of part-time employment. This work has been dismissed by some as lacking ‘quality’. However, there is little research evidence on the work experiences of this group of employees. Drawing on the adult employment literature this project set out to investigate school pupils’ experiences in their part-time work. The study aimed to provide an in-depth account of the experience of work from the employee’ s perspective, and to develop an appropriate set of tools to investigate adolescent work quality.
A case study design was adopted with an emphasis on qualitative data gathering. Information was gathered through in-depth interviews, event recording during work and observation in the workplace.
Following an initial screening survey twelve employed teenagers were recruited from a local secondary school (M:F=5:7). Participants were employed in four job sectors representative of school pupils’ part-time employment: Hotel/Catering (N=4); Delivery (N=1); Shopwork (N=4); and other miscellaneous jobs (N=3). Each participant completed four stages; an initial semi-structured interview, an event recording of their work activities, a second semi-structured interview and finally, each participant was observed at work for one hour by one of the research team. In addition to providing information on the part-time employment experience each stage provides a check on the data gathered, allowing a form of triangulation.
Two independent raters reviewed, analysed and categorised the data from each case study. One particular focus was on the tasks carried out in the workplace. Raters identified ‘unique tasks’ within each data source revealing the potential complexity of activities carried out by this group of employees. The results also draw attention to between job variations. Content analyses were performed on data relating to satisfaction. Tasks and customers emerged as the two most common aspects of work that impact on satisfaction. The results question the assumption that school pupils part-time jobs are of low ‘quality’. A comparison of the data gathered from each source allowed for a review of the consistency of information provided by participants. This process also highlighted potential strengths and weaknesses in the data gathering techniques.
The findings question existing commentator’s dismissal of this experience as having ‘little value’ and of being ‘low quality’. There was evidence of variations in task demands and the potential for skill attainment between participants. We should be cautious about assumptions that view school pupils’ part-time work as homogenous. Content analysis shows that workers enjoy their jobs and adopt an evaluative stance in their views on the experience. The study highlights the potential strengths and weaknesses of different methodologies for data gathering and gaining insight into the experiences of this neglected group of employees.