Ortiz: First Jobs Form Careers

A help wanted sign is seen in the window of the Unika store on September 4, 2015 in Miami,
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Politicians and commentators around the country are pushing for dramatically higher minimum wages with the argument: “A hard day’s work deserves a fair day’s pay.”

We couldn’t agree more. But in order to acquire the skills to earn a fair day’s pay, employees first have to start their career at an entry-level wage. Here, they learn basic skills like time management, a sense of urgency, and customer service that allow them to quickly climb the career ladder so that they can earn a career wage.

Economists find that learning these soft skills allows two-thirds of entry-level wage employees to get a raise within their first one to eleven months on the job.

In other words, in order to get a good job, you need to have a first job.

Despite how they are depicted by the media, even most top CEOs started their careers at entry-level first jobs. Take the story of T. Boone Pickens, the man who successfully built and managed one of the largest oil and natural gas companies in the country.

But long before this, Pickens started at an entry-level job, delivering newspapers, making a penny a paper. Though unglamorous, he learned important time management and determination skills that allowed him to quickly climb the ladder to a successful career.

Or consider Susan Story, the CEO and President of American Water Works. Susan grew up in rural Alabama and landed an entry-level job working as a photographer for her local paper, making the minimum wage of $2.85.

Despite making mistakes along the way – like forgetting to put film in the camera for an important shoot – Story quickly began picking up other jobs in the news business and raises to go along with them. Skills like the importance of preparation and planning helped provide her with the starting point for the success she enjoys today.

(There are more stories of CEO’s first jobs available at InformationStation.org.)

But increasing the entry-level wage makes these important first jobs more difficult to get because employers are forced to reduce jobs to absorb the costs associated with the higher wage mandate.

In fact, last year, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that 100,000 jobs around the country would be lost at a $9 minimum wage and 500,000 would be lost at a $10.10 minimum wage. What would happen to the number of good careers if hundreds of thousands of Americans were not able to get their first job? It may even prevent the next T. Boone Pickens or Susan Story from succeeding.

Given the importance of these first jobs, policymakers should enact policies that make them easier not more difficult to get. That would bring more of what we’re all after: good, high-paying, and stable careers.

Alfredo Ortiz is President and CEO of Job Creators Network


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