In 1990, after several years of ad hoc hiring of neighborhood teens for summer jobs within the company, William C. Smith + Co. instituted an organized summer youth employment program with dedicated staff and programming.
Over the ensuing years, we have honed the program through trial and error and input from the youth participants, their parents, and our own staff members. More than 900 young people have participated in the summer youth employment program, and the company has invested more than $1.2 million. We believe we have a very successful model for a summer youth employment program that benefits the youth, our company, and the communities in which we do business.
From the beginning, a couple of basic principles formed the backbone of the program. It should be a learning experience for the youth participants – not just a means to a paycheck. And it should be rewarding for William C. Smith + Co. staff members who volunteer their time to supervise and mentor youth employees.
It is no small task to take on a young person, likely with no previous work experience, and provide him or her with a part-time job with some ‘teeth.’ The easiest thing to do is hand them a rake and point them toward a lawn, or a stack of filing and an out-of-the-way file room, but that lack of interaction and instruction does nothing to model good work ethic or teamwork. Neither do we want to send a message that it’s okay to goof off and still collect a paycheck. Our goal is to motivate our youth employees, instill a feeling of accomplishment, and build self esteem.
We have also discovered that young people who work in their communities are more engaged and invested in them as a result. They take pride in what they have accomplished, and they encourage their peers to respect their surroundings.
The Smith Co. summer youth employment program has several components, and the planning process begins in the winter for each summer’s program. The core committee includes the vice president of human resources, a human resources staff member (who also processes payroll), the vice president of communications, a vice president of property management, and two community outreach coordinators. Every division of the company is polled to determine the number of placements we can accommodate, and that number has grown as the company has grown.