Young People’s Part-Time Work Experiences

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


A basic dilemma facing child employment researchers is the issue of whether paid part-time work during adolescence is a positive or negative affair. One side of the debate argues that work is ‘meaningless’, ‘low skilled’, and ‘devoid of value’. This argument holds that time spent in work is time spent away from more worthwhile spheres, such as school and family life. The opposing perspective argues work can be developmentally beneficial in that new and useful skills may be learned through the experience of work. Supporters argue exposure to work may help ease the transition to adulthood and adult employment. However, this body of research has developed in such a way that limited knowledge has been obtained about what actually happens inside the workplace. Research with adults has consistently demonstrated that the content, or quality of work is a major determinant of a variety of psychological outcomes, but little is known about what teenagers do in work or how they evaluate their part-time work experiences. Two studies were undertaken in this thesis to explore the content of work. In both studies participants were asked about the tasks and social interactions that occur in work, as well as their perceptions about the quality of their experiences, in particular the potential for the development of skills in work. A mixed methodological approach utilising interviews, event recordings and workplace observations was adopted in both studies. Study 1 with 12 employed adolescents found that work was not a homogenous experience in terms of work activity and social experience, but all workers perceived opportunities for skills development. Evidence from this study indicated that job sector and worker age might act as moderators of experience. Findings from Study 2 with 35 Retail and Catering workers, confirmed that job sector influences the type of tasks undertaken in work, the amount of control over work activity, the extent of contact with, and opportunities to train other workers, as well as adolescents’ perceptions of opportunities for development in the future. Worker age was found to moderate the amount of work typically undertaken, the closeness of supervision experiences, contact with different types of staff members and customers, as well as the means of finding out about work and applying for employment. In terms of the wider debate about ‘value’, this thesis supports the developmental perspective that work can be beneficial in adolescence. Findings from this thesis have implications for the design of school-to-work education and accreditation programmes, and suggest that employers and schools would benefit from working together to help provide adolescents with a better pathway to adulthood. Evidence from this thesis emphasises the need for placing the worker narrative at the centre of all debates about the experience and interpretation of work in adolescence.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • University of the West of Scotland
  • McKechnie, James, Supervisor
  • Hobbs, Sandy, Supervisor, External person
  • Edgerton, Edward, Supervisor
Award date9 Jun 2014
Publication statusPublished - 12 Mar 2014


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