On-the-job training (or what I learned from my first job)


I like to work with people.
I want to make money
I have to be my own boss.
I can’t work indoors.

Remember your first job? Not just the chores you had to do around home, but the first job that earned you some cold hard cash?

None of us forget that first paycheck. We had to be responsible, show up and do the job without whining. Sometimes, it even helped shape our own career paths (even if it was knowing you didn’t want to do that the rest of your life!).

We asked successful individuals to recall their early employment experiences, and share what they learned from their first job. Their lessons are universal.

The boss makes a big difference

John Parker’s first job for a paycheck outside his home farm in Trumbull County was at a small vegetable-growing operation where he had to hoe sweet corn, melons and cucumbers.

“It was hot, sometimes dusty, work and as the day went on, the sun got hotter and the day longer,” recalled Parker, who retired in 1985 after 34 years with OSU Extension. “My pay was 15 cents an hour.”

This grower, Parker added, “was very particular and not easy to work with. So I learned what hard work was with someone who didn’t seem to appreciate what I did, but 15 cents an hour was a lot of money at the time.”

“Mostly I learned that life is a lot more pleasant and enjoyable if you have someone to work for and with who is also pleasant and agreeable.”

It’s his hope that he’s conveyed that lesson to people he’s worked and lived with during his life.

Earthworms, anyone?

Jennifer Kiko was 9 or 10 when her grandma decided she needed a job, and promptly put her to work at the family’s produce market.

“I washed green beans and tomatoes, sorted peaches, and assembled peck baskets for $1/hour,” said Kiko, who is currently a communications specialist for Certified Angus Beef in Wooster, Ohio.

Her income was big money back then, and she supplemented it with “nightshift work” — digging night crawlers. “I still remember the guy who ordered 100 dozen of my night crawlers for his Canada trip.”

“I proudly purchased my own school clothes that fall, and a halter for my horse!”

“I enjoyed pulling slippery worms from the earth, but washing mud from bushels of fresh-picked beans was not fun,” Kiko added.

And building baskets was boring. “Grandma knew, but made sure I stuck to it.”

Today, Kiko’s daughters — ages 7 and 6, report a savings of $17.36 from their crop of cherry tomatoes this year.

“After picking and washing, they peddle produce to my mom, who now operates Manfull Orchards for Grandma,” Kiko said.

“Lessons learned, later appreciated and presently recycled.”

Building blocks

As the oldest of three brothers on a family dairy farm, Jim McConnell never had to look elsewhere for a job, summer or otherwise. But, the summer before he left for college, he needed to make more money than his farm wages, so he worked as a carpenter’s helper for a neighbor. The neighbor was a small contractor, who mostly custom built one home at a time.

“I learned most everything — from how to stake out a basement excavation to how to install a doorbell and everything in between — that goes into building a house,” said McConnell, who today farms 2,800 acres in Lorain County.

“The work was hard, but not especially harder than what I did at home.”

The days were long, too, as McConnell often came home and replaced the nail apron and hammer with a hay hook or pitch fork until dark or later.

“It was interesting work because it was different and I was learning useful skills. My boss was willing to instruct and I was willing to learn,” McConnell added.

“Perhaps most importantly, I learned that I could hold my own and earn my way, if need be, doing something other than my family’s chosen vocation. Without knowing it at the time, this successful experience provided a basis for me to be more confident in making future career choices.

“I ended up, eventually, back home as a dairy and crop farmer, but this initial summer job was just the first of many interim ‘mini careers’ along the path to get there.”

Customer is always right

Jan Rybka’s first job, outside of baby-sitting, was working as a short-order cook.

Rybka, who currently serves as district administrator for the Cuyahoga Soil and Water Conservation District, volunteered as a candy striper at a Cleveland hospital and “really enjoyed being given the responsibility of taking orders and executing the order.

“The lessons learned included how to provide good customer service, the importance of listening, the ability to take constructive criticism, perseverance, and most importantly, the self-esteem boost of getting the job done.

Bitten by the ‘people bug’

“Coming from the barnyard to the city, I worked Christmas vacation and other hours in a department store,” recalled Bonnie Ayars, dairy farm owner and dairy program specialist at Ohio State University. “I was scared, but anxious to work with the public.

“I quickly discovered that I liked it — working with people and sales.”

Later on, Ayars — who is a past World Dairy Expo Woman of the Year — transferred those early learned skills to “teaching kids and ‘selling’ them on being excited about education and lifelong learning.

“I never sold clothing again, but the experience was invaluable for my future career on and off the dairy farm.”

Show up and pay attention<

Growing up, Ben Calkins had plenty of jobs on his parents’ small farm, but his first “real job” was at Braymillers’ Market in Hamburg, N.Y.

Today, an attorney with Moriarty & Jaros in Pepper Pike, Ohio, and a Geauga County sheep producer, Calkins can quickly list four things he learned on the job.

“First, I learned to show up for work on time. Jack DiCarlo expected me to punch the time clock at exactly the moment I was scheduled to start work, and to be washed up and in my uniform before that.

“Second, I learned to do my best to follow my employer’s instructions,” Calkins added. “Jack DiCarlo knew exactly what he wanted, and it was my responsibility to listen carefully to his instructions and to follow those instructions to the letter.

“Third, I learned to do everything in my power to advance the interests of my employer. I worked hard for Jack DiCarlo, and when I finished a project, I learned to ask for more work.

And, finally, Calkins also learned the time-honored lesson that the customer is always right.

“Braymillers’ Market was a retail store, with many retail customers,” he explained. “I learned that the customer expects and is entitled to a satisfactory shopping experience. At Braymillers’ Market, I learned to always take special care to greet customers, to offer to assist them, to answer their questions and to ensure for them a satisfactory shopping experience.”

“I earned minimum wage at Braymillers’ Market, $1.85 an hour, but very much more than that when you take into consideration life’s lessons learned.”

Who here has worked on a farm?

Dan Corcoran’s first job off the farm was as holiday help for UPS (United Parcel Service) in Columbus. The first night of orientation, after all the paperwork was done, a supervisor came through the door and asked: “Who here has worked on a farm?”

He proceeded to take the ones who had farm experience right out to the sorting floor. The rest went through some evaluation process and most did not pass the test.

“I soon found out why this was so important to this job,” said Corcoran. “We on the farm have a work ethic that is: strong, not afraid to work, honest, always giving a good effort and a good attitude.”

Today, the Pike County grain and cattle farmer is chairman of the Ohio Soybean Council and newly appointed member to the United Soybean Board.

“I worked the night shift for two years while attending school at Ohio State. I saw many college-age employees come and go and my supervisor would still ask the same question each time a new batch of prospects would come around.”

“I did appreciate the money this job helped in paying for my tuition while I was in school, but I knew that I couldn’t do this the rest of my life,” Corcoran admitted.

“I learned that taking pride in all the jobs I did, giving a good effort in all I did, and having a good attitude, would serve me well no matter what road in the future I chose to take.”
* * *

What did you learn from your first “real job”? Visit our “summer job” forum thread and weigh in.


Up-to-date agriculture news in your inbox!



We are glad you have chosen to leave a comment. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated according to our comment policy.

Receive emails as this discussion progresses.