Sharing Success

Opportunity Disguised as a Problem

Nowadays, you hear a lot of business people of all types complaining that it is hard to find quality young people (18 to 22) to fill part-time positions.

Even my production team swears that some of the young people we employ during our canning season are simply “not as good” as those that we employed ten years ago and beyond.

Why would this be?

I am sure that today’s youth are just as smart or smarter. But my personal belief is that today, many young people lack “work sense,” a common sense understanding of what behaviors employers expect from employees.

Ten years ago, you could generally count on younger employees showing up understanding that the boss expected them to show up reliably and on time, even if they didn’t feel like it. They recognized work appropriate clothing. Once “on the clock,” they knew to remain focused on their task, ignore personal matters, keep working until the job was complete, etc.

A while back, I read a statistic which may help explain why younger employees today are not “preprogramed” with that behavior. According to Jason Ryan Dorsey, a researcher who studies generational differences between workers, people growing up in the 1950s and 1960s often had their first job by their early teens. Those growing up in the 1970s and 1980s typically started working in their mid-teens.

In other words, these earlier generations had developed “work sense” by their 20s through previous work experience.

In contrast, Dorsey says that young people growing up in the 1990’s and 2000s (including today’s 18 to 22 year olds) are not joining the workforce until their late teens/early twenties.

In other words, they haven’t yet had the opportunity to develop “work sense.”

As my Uncle Dino is fond of saying that “Opportunities often arrive cleverly disguised as unsolvable problems.”

The fact is that younger employees lack built-in “work sense” is an unsolvable problem. (No amount of wishing will change that fact.)

But, from experience, I can tell you that this “unsolvable problem” can be turned into an opportunity to find truly high quality employees.

Here is what has worked for our cannery:

• We pay a slightly higher wage than similar summer work, which creates more demand for our seasonal jobs. In our case, paying a bit more pays for itself by deepening our pool of good applicants to choose from.

• Hire for intelligence. Smart employees catch on faster, require less supervision, etc. To identify those with above average intelligence and common sense, we give them a rudimentary test of math, reading, and leadership skills.

• Hire for attitude. Once we have identified quality candidates, we interview each one and ask them hypothetical questions to help determine whether he/she has a positive “Can Do” attitude.

• Have a thorough training program. Training is the piece of the puzzle that can give a business a distinct advantage.

Training is essential for two reasons.

First, young employees who lack “work sense” have a tougher time fitting in to their first jobs because they are joining a “game in progress” without knowing what is expected of them. Helping them over that hurdle makes it easier for them to otherwise succeed.

Second, if the so-called training program consists of current part-timers training newcomers, watch out! Every time employees pass down training, important points get left out and before long, mistakes happen that risk disappointing customers.

That is why the secret weapon is real training by a boss. Starting off every employee with a clear understanding of exactly what you expect, why their contribution matters, how it ultimately impacts customer satisfaction, etc., shortens their learning curve and multiplies their chances of job success.

In my experience, there are plenty of quality young employees out there if you know what you are looking for and train them properly. Equipping the right ones to succeed increases job satisfaction, reduces turnover, improves service and product quality, and boosts productivity. Most importantly, it ultimately increases customer satisfaction!