Business owners share tips on hiring teens for the summer

Editorial Team

5 min read
Group of teens leaving school

Do you remember your first summer job? Remember how much you learned about responsibility and punctuality — the sense of ownership you felt standing in front of your grill station or the cash register? The pride you felt upon receiving your first paycheck followed by the inevitable rude awakening of income taxes?

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For business owners, hiring teenagers can be a great way to fill gaps in your company and invest in new talent in a highly competitive market for employers. The pandemic forced millions of young people to forgo valuable life and learning experiences, from prom to in-person graduation to summer jobs. In 2020, teenage summer employment hit its lowest levels since the 2008 Great Recession. Even with the tough economic news of recent weeks, many businesses are looking to hire summer help, and teens are out of class and looking for work.

Here are some tips from business owners on what to look for in hiring teens and how to make the summer a win-win experience.

Embrace the career mentor role

When hiring a teenager to fill a role at your company, it’s important to remember that you may be giving them their very first real work experience. For Lisa Paugh, owner of Walrus Ice Cream, and a longtime Clover customer in Fort Collins, Colorado, the most gratifying aspect of running her business is teaching young people the do’s and don’ts of the workplace. “It’s my job to teach them how to have jobs,” Paugh tells Clover. “How to wear uniforms, how to be on time, how to be respectful to customers and coworkers, how to get their shifts covered if they have something come up at the last minute.”

Walrus Ice Cream, a trendy, local go-to that frequently has lines around the block, provides its dozens of teenage employees with the kind of basic on-the-job training and skill development—customer interface, working under pressure, team work, communication—that can serve them for a lifetime. For Paugh, who embraces her role as an early career mentor, it’s gratifying to send young people out into the workforce with tangible career skills that she helped foster. She’s even inspired at least one young entrepreneur into becoming a Colorado Ice Cream competitor. “There’s one girl who worked here for me for two and a half years,” Paugh says. “She started an ice cream store over in Boulder.”

Wear your values on your sleeve

Gen Z is a values-focused generation. According to a survey from EY, almost two-thirds of Gen Z feel it’s either very or extremely important to work for an employer that shares their values. When hiring workers from this socially conscious and trust-driven generation (who range from teenagers to 25-year-olds at this point) it helps to position yourself in alignment with the values that define them.

“We’re seeing better traction with a more creative approach to hiring beyond simply relying on your typical job ad,” Chris McCuiston, CEO and co-founder of Goldfish Swim School, told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “By focusing on the impact and purpose of the job opportunity, you’re able to attract talent from individuals who want to pursue work that truly makes a difference—in our case, saving lives.”

Think long-term

Hiring part-time teens can be a fantastic and cost-efficient way for businesses to get through their busiest seasons. An ice cream shop, for example, needs to be staffed up to deal with an influx of customers during the summer months, and summer-job-seeking teens are the perfect solution. You’ve got a temporary onslaught of customers, and they’ve got temporary availability.

But what happens when the summer ends? John Vanore, owner of Rita’s Italian Ice in New York, believes working within the ebb and flow of a high-schooler’s busy schedule can actually be key to building a long-term relationship with that employee. “High school years are formative and crucial to development, so it’s important [for the company] to be respectful of prior commitments such as prom, vacation or summer school,” Vanore told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “This also allows you to … develop a strong working relationship so that [the teenage employees] continue to come back year after year, and maybe [even] when they’re home from college.”

Meet them where they’re at

When Itai Ben Eli wanted to open a new bakery in May, he was met with hiring challenges stemming from the Great Resignation. So, he turned to teens for his staffing needs. “They are 100% of my staffing right now,” Ben Eli told the Wall Street Journal. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”

For Ben Eli, who also runs two steakhouses in Houston and New Orleans, finding warm bodies to work was only the beginning of the story, according to the WSJ. Far from experienced culinary professionals, the teenagers he hired needed to be trained up. They needed to learn everything from interacting with customers to inputting sales into POS systems. Every youngster Ben Eli hires now goes through a month-long training process where they shadow more experienced employees, learn the menu inside and out, and get practice interacting with the sales systems. Through this training and development process, “We could shape and teach them what is important to us,” Eli told the WSJ. So far, Ben Eli has already promoted two of the teens he hired to shift leader.

Whether you’re hiring just to get through a single busy summer, or investing in young talent for the long term, teenagers can bring unique energy and enthusiasm to your business. Should you choose to, you can also become an important mentor in their lives by giving them real on-the-job training and experience that will serve them through the rest of their careers. So consider a young person for your next hiring need. They might be your best employee, and they might even be the future of your company.

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