My First Job: A Car Wash. In Miami. In the Summer.

This is the first of our My First Job blog series, where we ask Sirenumates, partners, and customers to reminisce about their first paying job. For more information, see our introduction to the series here

A Car Wash. In Miami. In the Summer.

Yep, that was my first job. I was 17 years old and couldn’t afford to be too picky. So a car wash in Miami had to do. Imagine 95 degree heat. Then imagine taking a shower in water the same temperature. That’s pretty much what working at a car wash in Miami in July is like. And while, yes, the heat and humidity contributed to the misery of that first job, it was surprisingly not the biggest contributor. Not even close. Worse than melting in hot suds was the turmoil of dealing with all the uncertainties created by management.Car wash

What does working at a car wash entail? Well, there were the usual things you’d expect: spraying wheels with degreaser, vigorously drying windshields and windows, handing over keys to thankful car owners. But there were also some things I didn’t expect:

(1) punching out at the first sign of a dark cloud, being forced into the “waiting room”–which amounted to a windowless 10’x10′ (3mx3m) room–while off-clock with all other employees, many of whom were smoking;
(2) having little to no insight into my upcoming schedule or pay;
(3) feeling completely unengaged with business operations; and
(4) offered little to no training.

And all in that glorious Miami summer I described above! Needless to say, turnover was high. Comically high. And management didn’t seem to care. It’s easy to say from afar that this was a minimum wage job and expectations shouldn’t have been too high. But my time there certainly opened my eyes to the challenges of employee engagement, health and safety, retention, and satisfaction in part-time jobs.

After a couple months at the car wash, I got a  job at The Gap. The two jobs overlapped for a week or so and the difference was stark. While I appreciate that The Gap is hiring a different type of worker, both on the employee and supervision sides, the amount of basic attention paid to workers was dramatically different from the car wash. Needless to say, technology has evolved since then. But what mattered more than the technology at our fingertips (or lack thereof) was the attitude of management; their willingness to engage their workers made all the difference.

I will say that I learned quite a bit from my time at the car wash (and subsequent time at The Gap). And though it was far from a perfect first job–what is?!–it definitely taught me a lot about people management and how (not) to motivate laborers.

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