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Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 20, 2018

Employing teenagers important to building ‘soft skills,’ responsibility

By Grace King, Mt. Pleasant News | Dec 27, 2017
Photo by: Grace King Although temperatures dropped into the single digits on Dec. 26, customers shopped Hy-Vee to restock their kitchens after the holidays. High school students are important to keeping the grocery store running smoothly -- and provide them with job opportunities to teach them soft skills like customer service and professional relationships.

Jonathan Ita spent Dec. 26 on break from Mt. Pleasant Community High School asking customers at Hy-Vee how their Christmas was as he scanned their groceries and organized them into plastic bags.

Currently working as a cashier and an employee since 2015, Ita has worked in almost every department in the store on E. Washington Street. Not only him, but all of his family has experience at that grocery store, he said, as he pointed out his dad checking out groceries in the line behind him.

“I’ve had to learn how to work with a lot of different people,” Ita said, adding that as a first job, the flexible hours enable him to continue playing the sports he loves such as basketball while also making some money to save for college. When Ita isn’t enrolled in an extracurricular, he works about 15 to 20 hours a week.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, from April to July of this year, employment of those 16 to 24 years old increased 1.9 million in the U.S. Typically, there is an increase in teenage employment during those months as high school students graduate and get ready for college. Since the 1970s, however, the rate of 16 to 19 year olds who are employed dropped almost 15 percent, as reported by the Pew Research Center.

But hiring teenagers not only gives them the work experience they need before going off to college or into other careers, they are important to the businesses that hire them too.

Tina Witthoft, human resource manager at Hy-Vee, said that hiring high school students is important to helping the students themselves become a part of the community. “Hy-Vee has always had a lot to do with hiring young kids because you have to make a career choice someday,” Witthoft said.

Working in human resources, Witthoft is the first person students meet when they interview for a job and she has a knack for knowing whether or not they will be able to succeed in this position. Additionally, she believes in second chances and giving students the opportunity to grow into their responsibility.

In the interview, Witthoft looks for friendliness. She said that if someone is in a lot of sports in school or participates in other extracurricular activities, it tells her a lot about their ability to be social — an important aspect of working as a “friendly smile.”

“There are kids who are in a shell when you interview them,” Witthoft said. “I have had kids who I hired and wasn’t sure if they were going to make it. If you can look them in the eyes and they look at you, that says a lot.”

Monica Moyle, who was hired to work at the Salad Bar in Hy-Vee, said that she felt that the interview was “really easy.” When she got nervous, she told herself to remember the person on the other side of the table is just that — another person. Working since the beginning of September, Moyle said she really enjoys her job and that it is teaching her how to balance work and school.

In her observation, Witthoft said the highest turnover rate for teenage employment at Hy-Vee is in the food court area, but most students continue to come back to work on holiday throughout their second or third year of college. She often has former employees come back who tell her how working at a grocery store helped them make choices regarding their future career.

Employment in customer service jobs is a great place for teenagers to learn soft skills such as dependability and communication. Witthoft believes a big part of students feeling more prepared in future careers after working in customer service is the trust they can earn. When students start at Hy-Vee, they are typically working courtesy — bagging groceries and bringing in shopping carts. As they earn trust, they are promoted to cash registers and other departments.

“You build a relationship,” Witthoft said. “Everyone is different. You might be very close or they feel like they can chat to you about everything, but a trust is built.”

Assistant manager Kelsie Bumell said that when training students, it’s important to know that everyone is different and learns at different speeds and in different ways. She agrees with Witthoft — that jobs such as courtesy and cashier teaches teenagers how to work with other people.

“It gets them used to the real world,” Bumell said. “They also learn a sense of responsibility.”

Three months into his job as a cashier, Wyatt Carlston is thankful for an opportunity to learn these skills and gain knowledge about working with consumers. A student at MPCHS, Carlston said that he wanted a job to break the “lazy generation” stereotype of millennials. “We’re not all bad,” he said.

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