They’ve raised two fine sons. They’ve hired plenty of teenagers over the past decade. They’ve turned away a great many more.
Brett and Susan Sommer are as passionate as parents/employers can be when it comes to doing their part in helping young people cross the bridge from uncertainty and idleness into productivity and prosperity. But from their view, much more needs to be done before Idaho’s unemployment rate among teens can significantly improve.
Labor statistics consistently show that Idaho’s teen unemployment rate is among the highest in the nation. Almost a third of 16- to 19-year-olds who want to work can’t land even part-time or seasonal jobs, federal Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate. In 2011, Idaho ranked as the sixth-worst state in the nation for teen unemployment.
We know what you’re thinking: “Wait a second - Idaho prides itself on work ethic and strong family values, so how can this be?” Yes, that’s what we’re thinking — and so are Brett and Susan Sommer.
We talked to the Sommers about this topic because they’ve not just raised two sons, but they own and operate three retail businesses in downtown Coeur d’Alene’s Plaza Shops: Figpickels Toy Emporium, Mrs. Honeypeeps Sweet Shop and Papillon Paper Emporium. They’ve gone out of their way to hire young people, and have done quite well at that over the years. But they say many prospective young workers are so far from passing that critical first impression stage, it’s no wonder many kids are playing video games instead of selling them — or otherwise earning valuable income and experience.
Without assigning blame, here are a few very basic suggestions the Sommers offer to area teens hoping to find a part-time job before the summer of 2012 is exhausted:
• Present a neat and clean image.
• Look the prospective employer in the eye and keep eye contact when introducing yourself.
• Firmly shake the prospective employer’s hand.
• Don’t be afraid to show some passion in your approach.
• Speak respectfully — and use proper English. One quick path back to the ranks of the unemployed is littering your speech with jargon, the repetitive use of words like “like,” or mumbling.
All five of these keys generally transpire within the first 15 seconds of meeting a business owner or manager and making a good enough impression to move on to the next stage of the job quest. We know it’s tough out there, that the economy is shaky and competition fierce. But we also know this region should be a hotbed for teen workers because of the abundance of seasonal retail and service sector jobs. Silverwood Theme Park alone hires many hundreds of teens every summer.
To become better prepared for the real world, teens might need more help from parents, teachers and other mentors. Help them practice these basics and soon they’ll be on the bridge to better places.