Wednesday, May 7, 2008

My first jobs

I was reading an article recently about the prospects of summer jobs for young people. The news didn't sound good since it said the unemployment rate of 16-19 year olds for the summer of 2007 was 35% and most of the new jobs are the obvious entry level, minimum wage jobs. Well, I guess while the minimum wage hasn't increased at the rate of inflation over the years, it made me think of my first jobs.

I graduated from high school in June 1967 (when I was 17) and since I worked the previous summer doing landscaping work for the family and neighbors it really wasn't a real job. So I had the choice before I began college in September of that, which I hated, or find a job on my own. Well, I had applied for the civil service and hadn't heard anything by Memorial Day. But then I got a call for an interview, after which I was hired.

My first job was with testing center for the now Office of Personnel Management. The government in the 1960's used a central test distribution center for all government tests for government and military jobs. All tests were printed, stored and distributed from the one facility in Denver. I would be a sorter and packer at the entry level of a GS-2 step 1, about $1.60 an hour. Really.

My job was to take orders for tests from offices throughout the government, go around the warehouse to collect all the materials needed, such as booklets, forms, pencils, etc. for the number of people requested. We used several long tables where one person would get and spread out all the materials, a second person would check the number and materials, and a third would put all the materials in to boxes.

The first person would then prepare the package(s) so that no tape end seam showed and the last end seam was covered by the shipping label. This would ensure than anyone opening the package in transit would leave a cut or end seam that would be evident when received. We also checked all materials which were returned from offices to ensure all the tests were accounted for by the testing office to us.

That was the whole job. Every day doing basically the same thing, packaging tests and checking the returned tests. Our supervisor did the work if the numbers of returned test didn't match those sent. By late August I had my fill of filling new order and checking return orders, so I quit. They wouldn't let me work part-time or other than normal hours to go to college, so it was the choice of the job or college.

Well, college won but Dad told me I had to continue working. I never understood that logic since neither my older brother and sister didn't have to work while in college. But then I was told that there wasn't any money left for my college. After my brother's five years, his transfer to Oklahoma and return, his marriage and first house, and after my sister's junior college (in western Colorado), Dad was nearly broke.

To pay for my college my Dad, my brother and I split the tuition. In addition I had to pay for my books and car. So I needed a new job. Well, it took a few months into college but driving home one day I passed a small shopping center. One of the stores was a Gold Bond (stamp) redemption store. In the 1960's stores gave stamps as incentive to buyers. The stamps were collected into books and the books could be exchanged for merchandise at their stores.

In the window of the store was a sign, "Help Wanted: Warehouseman". I stopped by talked with the manager a few minutes and about 20 minutes later I was hired. I was their only warehouseman (small store) and the job was to unload truck, usually filled with pallets of merchandise, check it against the shipment inventory, put it all into their warehouse, and then help customers out with the merchandise to their cars.

It too was a $1.60 an hour job. The same rules with my Dad applied for paying for college, but during the next summer I worked extra hours and days to earn money. This included working in other stores, a larger one where I later transferred because it was closer to college with more hours, and the main warehouse in north Denver. I worked there until I left for basic training in the Air Force in March 1969.

Looking back, it wasn't a well paying job, but I liked it. I was in charge of a warehouse, and kept all the merchandise in place and the warehouse clean. And in 1967 and 68, everything else was the greater world I would eventually wander into in my life.

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