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The most popular first jobs in the UK

The UK's First Jobs Report Header Imager

Everyone remembers their first job, and getting our pay and the end of each week, ready to go and spend it on whatever we wanted. Whether that’s a bus to town, or perhaps the latest toys, fashion or tech that was the latest craze.

Working a few hours a week, or picking up a Saturday job really helped our pockets. But even though our first jobs probably weren’t the most enjoyable, they might have had a bigger impact on us than we first thought, inspiring us to follow a specific career path. They also helped us to make friends and break out of our comfort zones, teaching us invaluable skills.

There are the obvious first jobs that most of us tried our hands at when we were teens, from babysitting to washing our neighbours’ cars. But we wanted to find out more about the types of first jobs people across the UK had as kids.

We conducted a survey and asked 2,000 UK adults what their first job was, as well as what age they first started working, how they applied, and the reasons why they wanted to work.

We also wanted to delve a bit deeper, so we quizzed our survey participants on the skills they gained from their first job: how many hours they worked, and if their first job influenced their current career.

Overall, the most common first job across all age ranges and regions was the paper round, with 25% of those surveyed saying this was their first-ever role. This was followed by being a retail assistant. 16% of participants said that this was their first job, putting out stock, working the till and helping customers.

The third most common first job was being a waiter, with 7% of people saying they worked as one, serving tables and running food.

Other popular first jobs include being a babysitter (7%), shop assistant (separate from retail), (5%) and a glass collector at a pub.

Most Popular First Jobs Image

The Most Popular First Jobs

  • Paper round
  • Retail assistant
  • Waiter/waitress
  • Babysitter
  • Shop assistant
  • Glass collector at a pub
  • Receptionist
  • Working at a farm/stables
  • Local business deliveries
  • Hairdressers/barbers
  • Pot wash
  • Takeaway (e.g. chip shop)
  • Leaflet dropper
  • Leisure centre assistant

However, some participants actually stated that they had never worked as a teen, with 4% saying that they had never had a job of any kind when growing up.

As technology advances and different types of job roles become available, generational differences between first jobs become more apparent.

We wanted to find out more about how when people were born might have affected their experiences at their first jobs, especially as child labour laws were introduced around the time of certain age brackets.

The survey results revealed that Baby Boomers started their first jobs aged 12-13. Following on from that, each generation started their first jobs a little bit later than the last. Overall, there’s a four year gap between Gen Z (aged 18-24) and baby boomers (aged 55+) working their first ever job, with Gen Z starting their first jobs aged 16 and over.

However, not everyone began their working lives as teenagers, in fact 8% of Gen Z said they never had a job of any kind. This is the highest percentage across all the generations, with those aged 45-54 having the least amount of people saying the same.

Age of First Jobs By Generation

The application process has changed over the years too, as online applications became more popular and CVs became more integral to applications.

For example, 34% of 65 and overs said that they walked into the workplace of their first job and asked for a role there. However, just 20% of 18-24 year olds said they found success through the same process, with 16% opting to apply online and 29% choosing to hand their CV into the workplace themselves.

Some generations managed to utilise their connections, as the data revealed that having a friend or relative to secure the job for them was most popular with 25 to 34 year olds (39%).

We all have different reasons for getting our first job, but the data showed there was a common theme across the generations. The majority of each generation surveyed said their main reason was to be able to have pocket money, with 55-64 year olds saying so the most (65%).

The other most popular choice across the generations was to become more independent, with 18 to 24 year olds saying so the most (47%).

However, the data also revealed that gaining work experience was more important to Gen Z than Baby Boomers, as 42% of 18-24 year olds said this was their main motivation, compared to just 15% of 65 and overs.

But how did the actual job differ between the generations?

The most common first job for Baby Boomers was a paper round, with 27% saying they delivered newspapers in their local area as their first job role.

However, only 14% of Gen Z said this was their first job, opting for a role as a retail assistant as their first job instead (19%).

A paper round was most popular with Millennials, aged 25 to 34 (18%) and Gen X aged 35 to 44 (31%).

A pattern across the results showed that more traditional job roles such as paper rounds and farm work have declined over the years, with more service industries job roles becoming more popular, such as waitressing and glass collecting at pubs.

The survey also revealed that the average amount of hours each generation worked at their first job was very similar, around 4.5 hours a week.

Not many of us start our first jobs with the intention of staying in the same industry for the rest of our working lives, however the survey revealed that Gen Z is the generation who was influenced the most. 15% of 18 to 24 year olds now work in a similar industry, and a gradual rise in this influence can be seen across the generations, as just 4% of 65 and over said the same.

This influence did work in the opposite direction though.

The survey revealed that roughly a quarter of each generation surveyed said that the most important thing they took away from their first job was that they’d never want to do it as a permanent career.

But what do we take away from our first job, besides extra cash in our pocket and a better idea of the industry?

Many of us will find that we have better communication skills, a stronger work ethic and a better understanding of the value of money. In fact, the most common things those surveyed learned from their first jobs was how to work hard and how to handle money.

Being punctual was the most important for those 65 and over, as 58% said this was what they learned the most at their first role. However, for everyone other than Gen Z, it was the value of money that was their most important skill picked up from their first job.

Gen Z however felt that improving their communication skills was the skill they most valued from their first job.

Of course, it’s not just a person’s age that will have an impact on what kind of first job they take on as a teen. Where you live will also determine what type of industry and what kind of motivation you have.

We wanted to find out more about how location can influence young people to take their first steps into the working world.

Looking into what age people took on their first job, the survey results showed us that those living in Yorkshire and the Humber started their working lives the earliest. 30% said that they first started working at the age of 13 or younger, more than any other region. This data is affected by the age of the survey’s respondents.

Not everyone wants to work at an early age though. London had the highest number of people surveyed starting their first job at the age of 25, with regions such as the East Midlands and Scotland following suit.

But which job was the most popular across the regions?

Delving into the data, we found that, again, the paper round was the most common first job across the entire UK, with those in Yorkshire and the Humber being the majority (31%). This was followed by those in East Anglia and the North East, with 30% saying so.

The survey also revealed that those in the North West and Scotland were more likely to work in the farming industry than any other region (3%).

However, the more retail heavy capital had the majority of people saying their first job as a retail assistant, as 20% of those surveyed said so. This was followed by Wales (19%), Northern Ireland (18%) and the West Midlands (18%).

Money was a main motivator across the UK for those grabbing their first jobs as kids, with people in Wales taking the lead (66%), compared to those in Northern Ireland who had the least amount of people saying so (43%).

We all have the thing we’re most looking forward to buying with our first wage, and saving up for a particular thing was a common motivator for diving into the working world.

The survey revealed that those in the South West of the UK were more likely motivated by this than any other region, with 18% saying this was why they took their first job.

Parents always like to guide us to be our best, and for many of us, they offered a helping hand with getting into the working world. Those in the South East felt this the most, with 16% saying they got their first job after their parents pushed them to take the plunge.

For some of us, our first jobs would have been a Saturday only role, whereas for others a paper round would occupy us every morning. But it’s those in Northern Ireland who said they worked the most hours, with an average of 5.3 hours a week.

Moneypenny’s team members and their first jobs

Here at Moneypenny, we have a wide variety of staff who come from all sorts of different backgrounds. However, whilst we all love our jobs now, we started out in completely different, and very varied, industries.

Moneypennies and Their First Jobs

Joanna Swash, our Group CEO first started out in the working world as a chip shop Assistant, providing her local area with delicious dishes, whilst Finance Director, Mark Williams was on his bike delivering the neighbourhood its morning papers for his first job.

Moneypenny’s CMO, Kate Cox, got her first job in Waitrose as a checkout operator. She now spends her time overseeing, planning, developing and executing our marketing and advertising strategies.

VP of Operations, Michael Jester used to cook up pizzas at Pizza Hut before joining us, whilst Head of Business Development, Samantha Jones worked in a shoe shop.

Across the other side of the pond, Eric Schurke works as our CEO in North America, and his first-ever job was as a butcher’s assistant. Head of Sales & Client Support, Lisa Gough, took her first role as a taxi office controller.

We’re all definitely handy people, with plenty of assistant roles being our first venture into the working world. Wendy Swash, our Head of Business Change, first started out setting up market stalls and our COO, Ceri Henfrey had a first job as a newsagents assistant.

Getting our first ever job as a teenager really helps us to build confidence, as well as building the necessary skills to go after our dream job. We hope to see new types of jobs becoming available for younger people in the future, to bring about new work experience opportunities.

We’re hiring!

If you’re currently over 18 and looking for a new opportunity, Moneypenny is hiring now. Check out the current vacancies, here.

*OnePoll surveyed 2,000 UK adults aged 18 and over between 22nd and 24th of March 2021.

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