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Here are some possible things to consider when attracting high school kids.

Ask Jill! Develop Your Company Culture: How to recruit high schoolers to your team

Here are 10 tips that will help you find strong teenage talent.

With summer here, what jobs are high school kids looking for? What attracts them? What will keep them working part-time during the school year or breaks? 

This month’s questions come from a past client and owner/operator of 18 McDonald’s restaurants in Atlanta (GAMOA Biz Unit), Rachel Miller. Rachel cares about her people deeply. It was clear from our work together that she wants to focus on creating an organizational culture that both centers around her people and supports her need for hitting her numbers. So let’s dive into these great questions and burning topic.

Consider this: Half of all adults have worked in the restaurant industry at some point during their lives, and one in three Americans got their first job experience in a restaurant. So the hiring of teenagers and the skills they learn is very important in the start of a career path, wherever it takes them.

During the summer, high school kids often seek various job opportunities that provide them with both a source of income and valuable experiences. Motivation is key for teenagers, so there are several factors that contribute to keeping them engaged. With regards to working in a restaurant, whether a quick-service restaurant or a white-linen establishment, or anywhere in between, there are some common aspects that will draw teenagers to work for you.

Here are some possible things to consider when attracting high school kids:

  1. Entry-level positions: Per the statistic above, working at a restaurant is clearly a perfect entry-level job. QSRs typically offer entry-level positions that require minimal experience. This makes working at a restaurant a perfect choice and more accessible to high school students who may be looking for their first job experience. This is the perfect starting place for teenagers to begin developing their interpersonal, task-oriented, and organizational skills along with establishing a strong work ethic.
  2. Teamwork and social environment: Working in a restaurant involves collaboration with fellow staff members and interacting with customers. The first step in effective communication is listening, and teamwork teaches how to do this effectively. Just as students must listen to their teachers and coaches to perform at school, so must they learn to listen and respect their managers and fellow employees to develop social cues as a key part of social skills they will use throughout their lives. It also teaches them how to speak in a way to be heard as a part of a collaborative team. This leads to feeling valued, therefore gaining self-confidence, a key attribute important throughout life. Belonging and being a part of something meaningful is very important to this generation. When a company can show teenagers these benefits of belonging, contributing, and being a true part of a team, a work-family, this will increase the attraction of high school students to work for your restaurant.
  3. Friends at work help the employee and employer: “Birds of a feather flock together.” We tend to surround ourselves with those of similar values, so if you are attractive to work for as “Employer of Choice,” you will exponentially end up with more qualified applicants and staff. A Forbes study uncovered that 72% of employees who have a best friend at work are more satisfied with their job. Fast Company also reports that moments of conversation between co-workers increase performance by 20%. So it is definitely important in today’s work environment to create that company culture where the next generation of employees want to work, want to be a part of, and with whom they want to grow.
  4. Competitive pay: Let’s face it, high school kids generally know that their summer job is usually just a summer job (unless you entice them to stay on, which we’ll address later in this article), so they’re looking for a competitive wage. Even if it isn’t the highest paying, they will most certainly consider where they can make the most money for the summer, balanced with the other points laid out here. Remember, this generation finds purpose, belonging, and contribution to be as important if not more than the amount they’re paid. But do not let that sway you into thinking you can pay them less by providing a “connection culture.” What you pay them also reflects that you respect the hard work they are giving you to make your restaurant successful. Without your employees — who should be viewed as your first-line customers, your internal customers — you will never be able to serve your end customers in the manner you expect for your brand.
  5. Employee benefits: Many restaurants offer perks like employee discounts or free meals during shifts, which can be attractive incentives for high school students who don’t have large, pre-established bank accounts. Every little bit adds up for them, so they are attracted to free food as a perk. And of course, do not overlook always showing them a concrete way to express themselves and grow with your organization. If you want them to stay on after the summer, they need to be enticed by knowing this first experience is just a stepping stone.

As to what will keep them working part-time during the school year or breaks, consider the following points in developing your company culture so that you will automatically attract the talent possible to remain with your organization after their summer experiences. Remember, they’ve now had a taste of who your company is, what culture you’ve created (or not), whether they belong, and if there’s room for growth.

  1. Flexible work hours: High school students often have busy lives with school, extracurricular activities, and homework. Jobs that offer flexible hours and accommodate their academic commitments and varying high school schedules will be more appealing and more likely to retain them. This flexibility allows them to balance work and other school and life commitments effectively, another great life-learning skill.

    Learning this work-life balance at an early age while juggling school commitments can be challenging for high school students. It’s a new skill. Employers who understand the importance of maintaining a healthy work-life balance and respect their employees' academic responsibilities are more likely to have students continue working part-time.

  2. Competitive pay: One’s sense of pride and accomplishment is in and of itself a critical component in the longevity of that source of pride. However, a fair and competitive compensation is always a key factor. Pride alone won’t pay the bills.

    Therefore, offering competitive wages that align with industry standards can motivate high school students to continue working part-time. Additionally, providing incentives such as performance-based bonuses, raises, or employee recognition programs can further enhance their motivation and commitment.

  3. Supportive and inclusive work environment: At the Jill Raff Group, we believe in creating leaders at every level, from the dishwasher up. This is accomplished by creating a company culture that includes everyone’s voice and opinions and provides support for each individual as a whole person, not just an employee who clocks in and out. Creating a positive work environment where high school students feel supported, respected, and included can significantly impact their job satisfaction. Employers who foster teamwork, provide clear communication, and value their employees' contributions are more likely to retain them because they will feel that they matter.
  4. Investing in your people: Educating, not only training, your employees is the E3+1 Recipe’s secret sauce to creating a strong foundation upon which to build your culture of a committed loyal workforce, or your work-family. Our proprietary process starts with Educate. Educate every person that touches your business in any way on your company's core values, vision, and mission. These values and characteristics should be felt, seen, and heard with clarity in all you do, from your perspective employees, your vendors, service providers, customers, and the community at large. Only then should you invest in the “task training” for them to perform the skills needed for their assigned position. (If you have any questions on this, feel free to reach out to me directly.) This other training for their performance, and growth opportunities, is not to be taken lightly. Some 62% of employees said lack of training would make them leave their job. When asked to identify an area where they feel their training has been lacking, respondents listed training with the purpose to be promoted (25.5%) as their No. 1 reason.
  5. Respect, recognition, and appreciation: Just like Aretha said, “R-E-S-P-E-C-T … All I'm askin' Is for a little respect.” It’s universal. Everyone wants to feel respected, and in doing so, will reciprocate and give more of themselves. Recognizing and appreciating the efforts of high school students can go a long way in keeping them motivated. Simple gestures such as acknowledging their hard work, providing constructive feedback for growth, or celebrating milestones can contribute to their job satisfaction and desire to continue working. 

Thank you, Rachel, for your relevant questions around what high school kids are looking for in their summer jobs and how to retain them to work part-time after the summer is over.

By taking note of these factors highlighted above, employers can create a positive and supportive environment that encourages high school students to want to work at your restaurant this summer, and then continue working part-time during the school year or breaks. It comes down to creating that relationship, that genuine human connection. Building a strong relationship with the students and understanding their needs can contribute to their long-term commitment to the job.

Get your culture-related question answered in next month’s Ask Jill! Develop Your Company Culture column. Write me at [email protected] with the Subject Line: Ask Jill! to be considered. And as always, I’m here to answer any questions or comments you may have on this article or other topics you’re dealing with to develop your positive connection culture within your organization.


Jill-Main_Headshot_color_241.jpegJill Raff is the globally recognized EX2CX Advisor, working with executive leaders who recognize the paradigm shift: the non-negotiable creation of a more humanized culture prioritizing their people. She helps organizations that recognize their people are their greatest asset but need help creating new systems and procedures to develop the culture resulting in higher retention and greater productivity. Companies experience employee and customer lifetime value using her methodology connecting the employee experience (EX) to the customer experience (CX) — EX2CX. 

Jill grew up working with her parents, owner/operators of McDonald's franchises, starting with store No. 150. Her customer service philosophy of Transforming Transactions Into Interactions starting with the employee originated from observing her parent's work and their interactions with legendary founder Ray Kroc. EX and CX is in Jill’s DNA. Based on her diverse background working in multiple industries — and living in 7 countries — Jill developed her Inside-Out Framework based on her “3+1 Recipe” to build a culture creating attraction and retention, often described as “where McDonald’s & Michelin meet.” Contact her at [email protected].

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