First Jobs: Young People’s Reflections on Early Paid Employment in Canada

About the project

Often when we think about children working, we are concerned about children labouring in sweatshops in the Global South under abhorrent working conditions. Yet many children work across the world, including Canada, and across a wide range of conditions. WE, the Canadian child- and youth-serving charitable organization, sees child labour as Canada’s “invisible crisis.” WE is concerned about inconsistent labour legislation across provinces and unenforced rules governing young people’s earliest work. At the same time, many young people value having jobs and see early work as an opportunity. When is early work beneficial? When it is harmful? How should it be monitored?

North American research into young workers tends to draw mostly on surveys, to focus on older youth, and to concentrate on effects on safety, delinquency and education. Rarely do researchers directly ask younger people about their views of early work. Our research is about changing this pattern by talking to teenagers about early work. This study builds on a successful pilot project investigating younger people’s ideas about, and experiences with, early part-time employment. Young workers in our pilot study generally saw their work positively building skills and providing a competitive edge, but we also noticed a tension between independence and dependence, and saw a vulnerability to risk.

In this current study – the focus of this website – we talk to young teens from a wider range of backgrounds and work experiences. We are asking these questions:

  • How young people, aged 12 to 16 (working and not working) think about themselves and their peers working (including perceived benefits and/or disadvantages)?
  • What are their experiences (if any) of early paid work, and how have these experiences changed over time?
  • How might differences in age, class, race and gender link to ideas about, access to, and experiences of, early paid work?
  • How do ideas about and experiences of work differ based on where you live?
About the Researchers

Rebecca and Wolfgang in front of their exhibit, “Picturing Work: Using Photo Elicitation to Explore Young People’s First Jobs” (in collaboration with co-researcher Jane Helleiner) at the Conceptualizing Childhood Conference, Brock University, October 2017.

Rebecca Raby

Professor, Child and Youth Studies, Brock University

Rebecca’s been interested in young people’s early work since her first working experiences delivering papers, babysitting, detailing cars, and waitressing. Now she is a sociologist in the Department of Child and Youth Studies at Brock University. Her work has included looking at schools rules, dress codes, sex education, gender and academic achievement in high school, and teen vlogging. She’s authored School Rules: Discipline, Obedience and Elusive Democracy (2012, UTP), co-authored Smart Girls: Success, School and the Myth of Post-Feminism with Shauna Pomerantz (2017, University of California Press), and co-edited Power and Everyday Practices (2012, Nelson; second edition forthcoming with UTP), and The Sociology of Childhood and Youth in Canada (2018, CSPI). Her current research is the focus of this website: young people’s first part-time jobs.

Wolfgang Lehmann

Associate Professor, Sociology, Western University

Wolfgang Lehmann is Associate Professor and Undergraduate Chair in the Department of Sociology at Western University. He is particularly interested in the role of social class and how it relates to inequalities experienced in education and subsequent transitions to work. His main expertise is in the use of interview methods, both individually and in focus group settings. Wolfgang has edited Education and Society: Canadian Perspectives (2016, Oxford University Press) and published numerous journal articles and book chapters on the complexity on transitions from education to employment.

Lindsay Headshot small

Lindsay Sheppard


Lindsay C. Sheppard is currently a graduate student in the Department of Sociology at York University. Her specific interests include intersections of girlhood and activism in online and offline spaces, activism through art, conceptualizing agency, growing up, and young people’s participation. Under the supervision of Dr. Rebecca Raby, her Master’s thesis explored young women’s activist blogs to better understand the complexities of mobilizing activism and intersectional activist blogger subjectivities online.

To date, the pilot study for this larger project has led to FOUR publications:

Easterbrook, R., Raby, R., and W. Lehmann. (2020) “Now that I’m older…they totally trust me”: Navigating babysitting as liminal work” Childhood. On-line First.

Sheppard, L.C., R.Raby and W. Lehmann (2019) “Grill Guys and Drive-Through Girls: Discourses of Gender in Young People’s Part-Time Work” Journal of Childhood Studies, 44(3): 56-69.

Raby, R., W. Lehmann, J. Helleiner and R.Easterbrook. 2018. “Reflections on Using Participant-generated, Digital Photo-elicitation in Research with Young Canadians About Their First Part-time Jobs” International Journal of Qualitative Methods (open access) LINK

Raby, R., W. Lehmann, J. Helleiner and R.Easterbrook. (2018) “’I’ll be more Prepared than most People’: Young People Talking about their First Jobs” Childhood 25(2):237-252. (not open access) LINK

Other resources to support young workers and work safety

Government of Ontario: What young workers should know:

Government of Ontario tips and videos for young workers:

Workplace Safety and Insurance Board

Canadian Labour Congress