Creating Successful Work Experiences for Youth

Kevin Hickey, Vocational Specialist, JVS Youth Department

Jewish Vocational Service of San Francisco and a beneficiary of the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties and an affiliate of IAJVS, the International Association of Jewish Vocational Services.

As the clock approached five minutes to three, I anxiously awaited the manager. Each minute felt like a lifetime -- as much of a lifetime as a sixteen-year old can grasp anyway. Sweaty palms extended, I reached out into the world of work. Without question, my first job positively shaped my view of work and laid a solid foundation for continued success. All this and cheeseburgers? Yes, McDonald's and, in particular, my first boss safely guided me through a maze of challenges towards our mutual goal of succeeding in the world or work. Now, many cheeseburgers, soccer balls, and counseling sessions later, I find myself helping both youth and employers create environments that nurture young employees. Over time, I've developed strategies for success in the workplace when working with youth. If you work with youth and employers, or you employ youth in your organization, read on to discover some keys to unlock the doors of young people's potential.

Begin by getting to know the youth. Discover their strengths, challenges, aspirations, and how they learn. Do they prefer written instructions or verbal? Next, consider workplace conditions as potential obstacles for the novice employee. Try to remove common barriers to success such as noise, distractions, time-sensitive tasks, unstructured time or assignments, conflicting instructions, and too many bosses. These scenarios, if gone unchecked, can lead to frustration, disengagement, and absenteeism. As you deepen your understanding of the youth employee, the greater chance you have of creating and sustaining a positive work experience.

Thorough orientations are also critical for setting the stage for success. Orientations should include: coworkers, physical layout, duties, expectations, schedule, supervisor, workstation, and rules for personal use of company equipment. Provide written documentation for reference. Tell them what you wished someone would have told you on your first job that would've made things clearer and easier for you to succeed. For example, explain the processes to expect at work such as performance feedback and reviews. Don't assume they know such mechanisms for performance improvement. After orientation, continue to check in with them on a regular basis. Allow them to feel part of a supportive team of professionals.

If behavior warrants intervention, utilize these strategies to minimize misunderstandings and maximize effectiveness. Keep it private; don't involve everyone in the office. Be an investigator; what is happening "on the surface" may not be the whole issue. Speak with youth individually or with one other person; don't "gang up" on them. Be honest and straightforward; youth can spot falseness quickly. But above all, model appropriate behavior. Again, don't assume they know "correct" behavior – show them.

With careful preparation, solid commitment, and thoughtful interventions, you could be the boss that future employers have to thank for bringing a star to their organization.