Complete Story


Summer Jobs are a Ticket to Success (and Higher Salaries)

OTA Helps Create New Summer Job Program with Columbus Zoo and Aquarium



Finding a career they'll love. 

Earning money

Developing the skills that'll make them true rock stars in future careers. 

It starts with a summer job.


The Ohio Travel Association is piloting a program with the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, Zoombezi Bay and The Wilds to raise awareness of our front-line jobs as valuable career training experiences. It also changes the conversation about these jobs as they recruit workers. Opportunities exist for other attractions, museums and businesses who hire students to take part in this innovative opportunity.

Finding enough workers – particularly during peak visitation months – is a challenge for many Ohio businesses, including many of our members. At the same time, those outside the industry sometimes talk about our jobs as being only entry level. Nothing could be farther from the truth, as more than 53% of our total workers earn middle-class wages and higher.

Our Jobs are Life-Changing

A few years ago, US Travel released research showing how those who start their careers in the travel economy end up making more money than those that start working in almost every other industry, such as health care and manufacturing. The jobs these folks held were front-line and entry-level, and a lot of them started working in high school. It got us thinking about how we could leverage this finding to not only help Ohioans in their careers, but also to make our front-line job opportunities stand out.   

JP Morgan Chase and Co. also did summer job research, and it shows how youth who are employed are more likely to stay in school, more likely to graduate high school and have higher earnings as young adults. Another study proved that part-time work by students results in higher earnings even when they are in their 40s and 50s.

“If the skills learned in our front-line jobs create lifetime career advantages, this changes the whole conversation,” said Melinda Huntley, OTA executive director. “Good customer service, showing up for work on time, teamwork . . . these are just a few of the skills students learn while working, and these skills help them later in life. Our front-line and entry positions are an essential piece of the workforce development puzzle.”

How OTA is Linking Opportunities with our Summer Jobs

OTA started attending Ohio Department of Education meetings and conferences to learn more about how students choose careers and what influences these choices. We also met with the Governor’s Office of Workforce Transformation to get to know their programs and priorities. In the process, we learned about a new program called the Career Readiness Seal.

Students earning the Career Readiness Seal are granted a diploma distinction identifying them as having 15 of the top skills needed for success – a majority of which can be learned during a summer job. Learn more about these skills and the seal here.

Our idea was pretty straightforward – how can businesses in the travel industry who employ high school students be part of this program.

Launching a Pilot at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

We worked with the Ohio Department of Education and the Governor’s Office of Workforce Transformation on a concept, then we connected them to HR leadership at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium to test the idea.

This week, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium launched The Edge program. While working in paid positions at the zoo and its subsidiaries, students can earn the diploma seal while building skills in leadership, teamwork, etc. To make it work, the zoo created its own rubric demonstrating the required skills workers must exhibit to earn the seal, as well as a rubric to assist supervisors in identifying the behaviors that must be demonstrated. Students are assigned mentors (supervisors) who evaluate them for these skills. As part of the program, the zoo is also holding parent meetings at local schools to tell them about the opportunity. .

“We are proud to offer the Edge Program to the many talented, motivated high school students in our community who are looking to enhance their skills and demonstrate their advanced proficiency in working in a professional setting,” said Columbus Zoo and Aquarium President and CEO Tom Stalf.

Interested in Launching a Program at Your Business or in Your Community?

OTA invites you to contact Melinda Huntley at if you want to explore launching a similar program for your workers.   

Printer-Friendly Version