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My first summer job: Well-known personalities tell us about their first jobs

Six well-known personalities tell Kerry McKittrick how they earned cash as teens and why it prepared them for the world of work

The summer holidays are fast approaching and, as exams papers are finished and the school year ends, teenagers across Northern Ireland are turning their attention to the summer holidays.

Of course a number of young people will be spending their vacations from school or university in the usual way - sleeping late and whiling away their afternoons watching daytime TV. Some might be packing for an international scheme or have their Inter-rail pass at the ready for that long-promised foreign travel.

For many however, it's time for the summer job. The summer job has always been seen as a bonus for any teenager. Not only was it the first step on a future CV but it gives young people a chance to earn their own money and gain some independence, perhaps for the first time in their lives. Baroness Karren Brady, who acts as a judge on the Apprentice and is vice-chair of West Ham United, even made headlines when she revealed she encouraged her daughter to start work. The interaction with other people and developing her own personality would pay future dividends said the tycoon.

We talk to some local people about their summer jobs and how that first tentative step into the world of work prepared them for later life.

Pat Jordan owns and runs luxury fashion boutique Jourdan in Belfast. She says:

When I was growing up my mother had her own employment agencies - one in Belfast on Royal Avenue and one in Dublin. From the age of 11 or even before that I spent most of my afternoons after school working in the Belfast one.

It was very hard for my mum to run her own business - my parents were divorced and banks and landlords were constantly looking for a man to co-sign for things but she did it and she was always such a great inspiration for me. It meant that I grew up very aware of business. I started working after school and during the holidays.

I would answer phones and take fees.

We had a lot of people going to America to work so I would answer the phone and tell the person I was putting them through to our international department but then just pick up the phone and put on a different voice.

I did get paid for the work I did but abysmally - parents are not known for paying very well and if there had been minimum wage back then I would have been well below it. I had no choice about working there - I was needed so then I worked there.

Looking back, working for my mother was excellent training for running my own business. I started with the basics but I also knew how difficult it was so I was under no misapprehension about the tasks ahead.

Difficulties when you're young are only there to test you. It's just when you're older that they floor you."

Jo-Anne Dobson (50) is an Ulster Unionist MLA and lives in Waringstown with her husband John. They have two sons Elliot (26) and Mark (23). She says:

My mum and dad had a small business for many years. It deal with plumbing, heating and bathrooms. We had a bathroom showroom and also supplied the trade.

For my sister and me then it was all very hands on for as long as I can remember. Every family member was involved. Most of my summers were spent in the business and I did absolutely everything. I started off cleaning and making the tea for customers and moved on to liaising with customers, book-keeping and doing deliveries when I was old enough to drive. I even got into interior design and styling of bathrooms.

I absolutely loved the business and after my A-levels I started working for the family firm full-time. I loved seeing a job through to the completed article and I loved the aspect of meeting and dealing with people.

I was engaged at 18 and married at 20 so I moved to my husband's farm then. There were a lot of skills that I could use on the farm. There's all sorts of book-keeping and paperwork that goes with farming now.

I had done just about every role to do with a business so I had a good grounding and those are skills that I've been able to use not only on the farm but also as an MLA. People skills in particular are very important in what I do.

I think children working in the holidays is very important. Both of my boys were brought up to work on the farm in the holidays - Mark still does and when he finishes work he comes and volunteers in my constituency office."

Nicola Mallon (36) is an SDLP MLA. She lives in Belfast with her husband Brendan Scott and their daughter Elena (10 months). She says:

In my family you were sent out to work as soon as you got your National Insurance number through. My first job was in the local Mace while I was at school. When I went to university I spent my summers working in factories; the first year I packed products and the second year I worked on an assembly line making pictures.

For me it was really important to get out to the world of work and I think young people should do it as early as possible. I felt hard done by at the time because I had friends who were sleeping in and enjoying their summers. Looking back I realise I learned discipline and it certainly taught me the value of money. When I wanted to buy a dress or something I would look at the price and start to calculate how many hours of my life I would have to give up to actually buy it. That was a good lesson.

If I hadn't worked I probably wouldn't have used the time productively - I would have spent half the day watching daytime TV. I did manage to get holidays and I could do that because I had saved the money to pay for them. In that respect, having summer jobs gave me a bit more independence. There was also a sense of pride too - I could have some fun because I had worked hard to earn it.

Having a summer job on your CV when you're just starting out shows initiative because you've just gone out to find work. It doesn't matter what that job is either, you've acquired skills in doing it and I think employers recognise that."

Dick Strawbridge (56) is a TV presenter from Bangor. He is currently renovating a chateau in France with his wife Angela. He is father to James (31), Charlotte (29), Arthur (3) and Dorothy (2). He says:

I started off as a young teenager by cutting the grass of our neighbours with my dad's lawnmower. I think I was volunteered for that by my parents. I was only about 13 or 14 but when I got paid I thought it was great. I loved the work. Although people only wanted their lawns done every couple of weeks I was kept busy and it was a decent little income.

I had my first real job in the summers of sixth form. There was a company called United Carriers which was a haulage firm with a depot in Antrim. I emptied the 40-foot shipping containers which brought all manner of goods over from England. All of the cargo had to go into cages for different parts of Northern Ireland so you needed to know where everywhere in the province was.

I shared the work with another chap who was also a summer worker and I think we worked about three times as hard as everyone else as they all did it every day and were happy to let the young bucks do the work.

Summer jobs are essential because kids need to learn the value of money. My son James is now an executive chef and runs his own Cornish pasty company in Cornwall. My two grown up children understand the value of working.

I've even got my two youngest, Arthur and Dorothy, helping me in the grounds of the chateau we have in France. I have them picking up sticks and stones in the same way that I did with my dad when I was very young and James also did with me when he was very young."

Emma Little Pengelly (36) is a DUP MLA and junior minister in the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister. She lives in Belfast with her husband Richard. She says:

From the age of about 16 I worked at Next so for me my summers were very much about the Next summer sale.

For the sales all of the stock had to be taken off the floor and the labels rewritten. The sales were crazy because we closed at 3pm the day before to get ready for the 5am summer opening. After Christmas you would see things that you'd bought as a Christmas present for half price. We'd also have to get up at 6am on Boxing Day for the sale.

For me I was paying my way through university, so I worked as many hours as I could during the summer holidays. It was great to have that job the whole way through as it meant I could supplement my student loan.

My one regret when I look back though is that a lot of people travelled on work schemes like Raleigh International but I never could because I had to work. In saying that work certainly taught me a bit of discipline. I had to manage school and university too. I had to be there on time and had to wear a uniform. We got a big discount to spend on our uniforms each season which was good but a few months later you never wanted to see those clothes again.

Another thing that sticks in my mind was the music tapes they played in the shop. There are certain songs now that I can't listen to today, particularly Christmas songs. I also got very sore feet after standing all day.

I learned to work as part of a team and I learned to talk to people which have been great skills to have. I also learned the value of money. When you have £20 in your hand and you realise it represents four hours work, then it's much more valuable to you.

Having a summer job is great experience. When people leave university employers can see that they know how to show up to work on time and how to take responsibility for themselves. People now often end up joining the graduate programmes of companies they worked in for summer jobs."

Dan Gordon (51) is an actor and playwright and lives in Belfast with his wife Kathy and their three daughters; Sarah (26), Hannah (23) and Martha (18). He says:

When I was at school I worked at a place called Clanbrassil House which was a licensed restaurant in Cultra catering mostly for weddings. My mum had been a waitress there and got me a job in the bar which was just a little hatch in the wall.

It was a big old house that could handle three weddings at a time. There was always chaos trying to make sure they all arrived at different times. I must have seen a thousand weddings during my time there. Once a man actually died. He quietly had a heart attack in the corner and everyone thought he had too much to drink so they just took him out of the room when they suddenly realised what had happened.

It was good to have a bit of money - I earned £3.50 for a shift and with tips I could go home with £6. It was much better for the girls though as they would clean up on tips.

I got a job because everyone else did. I would have loved a job like a binman or a postman but I hadn't a clue how you went about being a binman so I stuck with the bar. When I went off to Stranmills College I started working in the bar there. That was great because no one came in at the weekends so it was just me and the nightwatchman watching the football on Match of the Day.

Summer jobs are great because they teach kids the value of money. My eldest two were working from the age of 16; Sarah was in the fashion store Zara and Hannah worked at the costume shop Elliots. My youngest Martha has just finished school and regrets not having a job but she was very involved in music, the Duke of Edinburgh Award and volunteering and just didn't have the time. Now that she's finished school she's hoping to get a job working in a big toy shop."

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