Summer Jobs: It’s Not Too Early

Ah, the Monday after reading week. The faces on the bus seem a little bit longer, the sky seems just a touch more grey. Maybe you spent the week on a trip to somewhere with beaches and sunshine, at home catching up on sleep or taking extra shifts at work. However you spent reading week, you’re probably not too happy about the fact that it’s over.

However, as spring approaches, there is one matter of perennial concern to post-secondary students that has little to do with melting snow, budding leaves or cherry blossoms. It’s not about final exams, term papers or class presentations either. In fact, it’s not about spring at all, so much as it is about summer. What am I referring to? Summer jobs.

There is a definite lure to four months of income as a student. First and foremost, there’s the chance to save some money for the upcoming school year. Having more than a brief disposable income can be a refreshing change of pace for the average penny-pinching student.

Thinking about students on the lookout for summer work always makes me nostalgic. I certainly leaped at the chance to earn as much money as I could in the summers of my own university days. Of course, I didn’t really have a choice—I wouldn’t have been able to afford school, otherwise.

My first summer job on my way into university was in a restaurant kitchen, doing prep work as a baker. It was a part-time minimum-wage job that I started in high school (back then, minimum wage was $5.90 an hour, believe it or not). By the time summer came around I felt pretty good about my new promotion to $8 an hour. I spent that summer getting up at the unholiest times of day only to spend more than 10 hours a day baking bread, tarts and whatever other desserts were being offered up at the time.

Lunch rushes were something else, too. When you consider the extreme heat resulting from working in a closet-sized space full of deep fryers, ovens and a giant grill during 30+ degree weather, it’s surprising I only ever saw one person pass out from heat exhaustion.

The job was as lucrative as it was glamorous, which is to say it was a lot of hard work for a pretty insignificant paycheque. So, when school started in September, I made my first resolution to never spend another summer working in a restaurant kitchen.

Fortunately for me, I found something I liked far more over the next three years: wildland firefighting. I had heard about this during a different summer job in high school and decided I would apply as soon as I had a four-month summer. Needless to say, the idea of spending my summer flying around in helicopters, frolicking in the bush and dousing forest fires sounded incredibly appealing. It became even better once I learned that I could make tens of thousands of dollars for four months of work, if the fire season was dry and hot enough.

I was elated to find out I was accepted to the Helitack program in Alberta, based in Slave Lake. I enjoyed the work enough that I spent the next three summers doing the same thing. In times of plenty, I got to travel all around the province, spend weeks at a time outdoors, hang out in quirky small towns (one whose slogan was actually “It’s not the end of the world, but you can see it from here”), and routinely spend hours flying thousands of feet above the forest in helicopters. Sometimes crews would get sent around the country or to other parts of the world that were having extreme fire conditions. I spent August 2005 in western Ontario under just such circumstances. Conversely, when it was cold and rainy we had the relatively unpleasant duty of finding projects with which to use up our time.

Alas, my move to the west coast signaled an end to my forest fire fighting “summer career.” I also found out pretty quickly that the job market in Vancouver was not as friendly as I was hoping it would be, and in the last few weeks before running out of money to pay living expenses, I found myself in a familiar situation: working in the kitchen of a local restaurant.

I even hung around that job long enough to work one more summer. Happily, my second resolution to never spend another summer working in a restaurant kitchen is still holding strong.

Ah, the memories. Have you started thinking about summer jobs? What kinds of summer jobs have you had? What is your ideal summer job like?

If you’re not sure where to start, your school’s career services office is the place to go!

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