This is part of the Ready NWI and First Job series — an initiative of the Youth Employment Council of the Northwest Indiana Workforce Board. The series reviews the story behind some of Region leaders’ and residents’ first jobs.
Maura Durham is the president of the Duneland Chamber of Commerce.
What was your first job?
I worked at the Bristol Café at the Lighthouse Place Premium Outlets in Michigan City. I was 15. I had no job title, but today you would call me a barista. I made sandwiches, brewed coffee and made other hot drinks.
What was your work schedule?
I worked weekends and after school a few nights a week. When I had to close the store, you would find me singing away as I mopped the floor. The handle of the mop was my microphone. After my nightly “performance,” I made myself a mocha.
It sounds like you enjoyed the work?
I did. The experience also turned me into a bona fide coffee snob. I now enjoy the taste of espresso. I also know the difference between a cappuccino and a latte and how those drinks are different from a mocha. Singing into mop handles and sliding across a wet tile floor comes in as a close second.
What did you not like about the job?
I did not like doing dishes at the end of the night. Muffin pans were the worst. However, the sour cream muffins and the cappuccino chocolate chunk were to die for — and I guess worth the dishpan hands in the end. To this day, I still don’t like to do dishes.
How much did you earn, and what did you do with your earnings?
I made minimum wage, which at the time was around $6 an hour. I saved $1,000 dollars and told my parents I was going to college.
Did you make any serious mistakes on the job?
I did. I had been working two years at the café when the following occurred: One of the final duties in closing the store is to shut off the lights. In doing so, I accidentally hit an additional switch that shut off the electricity to a freezer. It melted some of the ice cream. The next morning, the owner of the store called me into the store and told me that I would have to pay for the melted ice cream. I was stunned. I considered myself a good employee and felt the penalty for this one mistake was harsh. So I quit my job and walked out.
What advice do you have for a young person about to start a first job?
Listen without distractions, take notes, bend and look.
Bend and look?
I was always asking my boss if we had some item in the refrigerator. She would always say, “Bend and Look.” What I needed was always in the fridge, but I rarely took more than a few seconds to search for the item. If I did, I would have saved time for my boss and myself. Bend and look.
What advice do you have for employers who hire youth?
Hire for the passion and train for the skill. High school students and college graduates want more than a job. They want to be part of something they believe in. It is the employer’s responsibility to capture youth and then inspire them.