Teens who spend their evenings, weekends or summer breaks working at low-paying, part-time jobs are giving themselves a competitive advantage over their non-working peers, according to a new study from the UBC Sauder School of Business.

And the more hours a 15-year-old works, the better their career prospects — particularly if those hours are squeezed in during term time, forcing them to manage their time effectively, says study co-author and Sauder professor Marc-David L. Seidel.

The study — "Beneficial 'child labour': The impact of adolescent work on future professional outcomes" — may surprise parents who spend hundreds of dollars keeping their teens occupied and engaged through the summer at camps, rather than packing them off to low-skilled, minimum wage employment – so-called "McJobs".

marc-david seidel

UBC Sauder School of Business associate professor Marc-David Seidel says teens may benefit more from low-paying, part-time jobs than from going to summer camp. (Brian Howell)

Through work in an adult environment, teenagers are able to identify what they like — and what they don't like — about certain jobs, allowing them to build a better sense of what they want from a career going forward, says the study, which was published in Research In The Sociology of Work.

“Parents may think that their kids could do better than a job at the local fast food joint," Seidel said in a news release. "But our study shows even flipping burgers has value – particularly if it leads to part-time work later during school term.”

Researchers used data from the Statistics Canada Youth in Transition Survey, representing 246,661 15-year-old Canadian teenagers, and looking at their work history over a 10-year period beginning at age 15 and ending at 25 in 2009.

The study does note that it was conducted in a developed country where the law protects children at work. Even so, some children are forced to work through financial necessity, rather than personal choice.

The number of hours spent at work that were found to be beneficial for teenagers were up to 33 per week during term time and no more than 43 hours during summer break. Hours beyond these were seen to have a negative impact on the students.