Teenagers can be effective employees with the proper training. Business-people around the world share tips on how to transform the inexperienced teen worker into a valuable business asset.
Young people demonstrate character and responsibility in extracurricular activities. Ask for referrals from coaches, faculty, customers and employees. Bruno Delfante, manager, Small Business Development Corporation (SBDC), Western Australia, advises, “When recruiting teenagers, good traits to look for include being captain or member of a sporting team, head girl or boy at school, coaching younger children, or being involved in volunteer work. These roles indicate leadership, punctuality, dedication, confidence, and strong interpersonal skills.”
Julie Lemna, co-owner of Westpark Printing in Boise, ID, prefers to hire teens who ask questions during an interview. “I look for somebody who has a positive attitude and who verbally communicates,” she says.
Marilyn (Groff) Martin, co-owner of Groff ’s Flowers and Gifts with her husband, Michael, in Strasburg, PA, recruits teen employees through high school vocational, cooperative education, and work experience programs. Martin often finds employees through word of mouth; friends of good employees usually turn out to be good workers, she notes.
Nick and Roz Woodham, NightOwl Convenience franchisees of the year in Lismore, New South Wales, Australia, comment, “Generally, our teen employees started as customers of our store. We find this works as we have a relationship with them and they are engaged with the brand.”
If the job requires social interaction, consider holding group interviews and observe how applicants interact with each other. Teens who are outgoing can make great party hosts or salespeople.
2. Surf their turf
Utilize social media when recruiting teens by posting the jobs online. Use Facebook and other sites to investigate prospective teen employees. A teen is more likely to reveal his or her character and personality on social media. Checking their social media accounts may be more enlightening than asking for references. Let them know you looked at their social media accounts before you hired them and will continue to monitor their accounts while they are employed by you.
The Woodhams suggest, “Communicate clear expectations from the beginning.” Supervise teen employees with “patience and an open mind,” advises Mark Harris, National Merchandise manager of United Petroleum in Abbotsford, Victoria.
Set clear expectations for every aspect of the job. Teens may need guidance in professionalism. A teen may be motivated and intelligent but may have a casual approach to work. Before a teen begins employment, discuss punctuality. Explain what to do if illness or other emergency prevents a teen from coming to work. Talk about things they should not do while at work, such as texting, talking on the phone, and chatting with friends who stop by. If a teen will be working with customers, explain exactly how to treat the customers and walk through a variety of scenarios. When you show teen employees something new, ask them if they have any questions and let them know that if they are not familiar with a procedure or policy, they should ask.
Marilyn Kove, owner of Love ’N Kisses, a balloon and gift basket retail shop in Sherman Oaks, CA, recognizes that “young people have their own set of pressures and worries—problems with their parents, concerns about classes, or breaking up with a boyfriend. Just treat them as equals. Teenagers aren’t children. Many of them are more responsible than some adults.”
Lemna encourages entrepreneurs to treat their employees to dinner on a regular basis. “We make it a business meeting and we talk about work, but it gives everybody a chance to get to know each other a little better outside of work.”
“The teen worker may sometimes act like a child, but wants to be treated like an adult,” adds Bruce McGreal, manager at Lehrer’s Flowers in Denver, CO.
Teens may have other commitments that will affect their availability. Scheduling can be affected by laws, work permits, and homework or social functions. Be flexible in scheduling. To prepare for a high absenteeism rate, train all employees in multiple tasks. Cross-training helps build teamwork, a sense of responsibility, and loyalty, and reduces friction. Erin Johnson, Operations and Food and Beverage manager at Pinz/Wahooz in Meridian, ID, points out that cross-training helps to run a slower shift with a lower labor cost. “As employees learn more skills, they become more valuable to us and are able to cover more positions.”
5. Take time to coach
A teen’s employer is also a teacher. “Help, guide, mentor, and train them,” suggests Harris. “They are like sponges and absorb guidance and information.”
Delfante notes, “Small businesses have a small number of employees; therefore, teenage employees often are given higher levels of responsibility than if they worked in a larger business.”
The good news, according to Russ DeWolf of Rainbow Balloons in Northridge, CA, is that teenagers are probably easier to train than adults because “they don’t have any bad work habits that have to be unlearned.”
That said, “you forget that something you think is relatively simple because you have done it for a long time is actually pretty complex for someone who doesn’t have experience. You have to constantly follow up and check on their progress,” observes Doug Melchior, Golf Course superintendent for City of Overland Park, Sykes/Lady Overland Park Course in Overland Park, KS. “Be ready to continually train them.”
6. Clarify instructions
Teens are distracted easily and may not have strong listening skills. Patiently review instructions until employees understand what is required. Explain why the policy or procedure is in place. Martha Hale, manager at Harmon’s/Bartons in Portland, ME, asks her employees to “paraphrase back what I’ve said to them, so we have a mutual understanding. By having them explain it in a different way, I make sure my communication is clear.” Reinforce directives, follow up assignments, and repeat instructions.
7. Provide constructive feedback
Vermont State Representative Warren F. Kitzmiller, former owner of Onion River Sports in Montpelier, VT, reminds, “It never hurts to say, ‘You’re doing a good job and I want you to know I know that.’ Whenever I need to criticize or educate, I’m not the kind who screams and yells. I try to remember what it was like working for older people when I was that age. I try to emulate those I liked.”
“Poor performance is a training opportunity,” says Jed Shafer, L.C. S.W., in Ontario, CA. He coaches managers to reward the positive rather than criticize the negative. Teens tend to take criticism personally and may be sensitive, so be clear, calm, and positive when giving feedback.
8. Reward initiative
If a teen employee shows a talent or interest in a specific area, give him or her an opportunity to develop those talents. A teen who wants to be a Web designer can help with your Website. Invite that teen who wants to study public relations to join your marketing meetings. Entrust teens with more authority and give them a chance to exercise judgment.
Ask teen employees their opinions, especially in areas such as social media and merchandise displays. Harris notes, “A younger set of eyes in the business can make it more relevant to a younger customer demographic.”
Adds Adam Adams, NightOwl Convenience franchisor based in Brisbane and Cairns, Australia, “Teen workers help us with the energy they bring to the business. We recently ran a competition encouraging staff to provide simple ways to upsell. More than 50 percent of the respondents were teen employees.”
A teen on his or her first job may be reluctant to clarify instructions. Encourage teen employees to ask questions. Answer patiently, though the questions may seem repetitious or the answers obvious. “If you communicate with them and engage them, they can become some of your best employees,” observes Adams.
10. Cheer them on
A manager with a positive attitude will gain the respect and cooperation needed from teen workers. “If you engage them early in their employment, they can assist you with growing your business and providing great customer service,” sum up the Woodhams.
Delfante reminds, “Many teenagers have entrepreneurial ambitions of their own, so offering to show them how a business works may be the added incentive a teenager needs to work diligently and attentively in your business.”
Hiring that teenager could prove a smart investment for the future of your growing business. After all, teenage employees are the business leaders of tomorrow.
Pamela Kleibrink Thompson is a recruiter, career coach, freelance writer, and speaker. Contact her at: PamRecruit@q.com.
YOUTH EMPLOYMENT AND THE LAW
There are special employment laws regarding employment of teens. Employers should keep up to date on these rules and laws. Inform your teen employees of their rights and the laws and remind them to be aware of safety issues.
Ruth Kremer and her husband, Ken, a sheriff’s deputy, are co-owners of Kremer’s Toy and Hobby, in Albertville, MN. Ruth notes, “Safety issues include knowing how to handle bad weather situations, customers under the influence of drugs and alcohol, possible robberies, etc. While we live in a safe community, these issues still need to be concerns of ours. With one of the owners being a deputy, we live in the reality of what’s going on in the world around us. We believe most adults can handle these situations with a more mature decision process than teens.”
The Department of Labor is the sole federal agency that monitors child labor and enforces child labor laws. The most sweeping federal law that restricts the employment and abuse of child workers is the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). FLSA restricts the hours youth under 16 years of age can work and lists hazardous occupations too dangerous for young workers to perform.
Some Websites that can provide useful information include: This site from the U.S. Department of Labor has lots of general information: http://www.dol.gov/dol/topic/youthlabor/
This site spells out age requirements for youth employment: http://www.dol.gov/dol/topic/youthlabor/agerequirements.htm
This site links to local state laws: http://www.youthrules.dol.gov/
This site from Washington State has useful information for teens and their employers spelling out working hours and prohibited duties: http://www.lni.wa.gov/workplacerights/teenworkers/
Resources for employment of youth in Australia: