Teens begin to learn lessons of work
CHAMPAIGN — Monday through Friday, 2 to 5:30 p.m. Every week.
"From 2 to 5:30 is your work schedule for the next six weeks," says Marques Lowe, a program coordinator who's going over the rules with the four high school kids who will be working here during the summer.
Show up. Be on time.
Be accountable for your work.
Sign your time sheet. You won't get paid if you don't.
The garage is hot and dirty and loud — hip-hop music plays over the sound of air wrenches whizzing and air compressors chugging — and the whole place smells like rubber. The four will have to get used to it if they want to get paid.
"You guys excited?" Lowe asks.
Trevon Adams musters a tentative, "Yeah." The others just smile and nod.
Lowe knows that they're still rough around the edges, and so do their supervisors at the Tire Barn. For them and a lot of the 150 kids at locations all over Champaign on Monday, it's their first job.
Minimum wage, $8.25 per hour, paid by the city and the school district.
Jamal Karil laughs if you ask him about the money. It'll be nice, but the point is that he didn't want to be lazy this summer.
But Lowe was around for the summer job program last year, too, and he knows what six weeks of training can do for a high school kid. They're going to learn a lot today.
"You guys are building resumes right now," he tells the four. "There's not a whole lot of 15-, 16-year-olds that have a resume."
If last year is any indication of how this year will go, building that resume is going to be tough work at the Tire Barn. Keeping a garage clean is not an easy task. All those tires need to be stacked, and they're not light.
After the paperwork is done, Jamal is ordered to pick up garbage in the parking lot. Trevon and Terrace Davis are off to reorganize stacks of tires that are taller than they are. It's not long before the sweat starts to soak through Trevon's gray tank top.
They're mostly silent as they follow their new supervisors from place to place at arm's length. Their bosses do most of the talking, with Trevon posing only a timid question here and there.
"Lay this flat?" he asks about a tire he's moving from one rack to another.
Meanwhile, 15-year-old Damien Lyons' first assignment on his first day of work at his first job is cleaning windows. Armed with a bucket and a squeegee, he gets to work around the outside of the business.
The first try is a little awkward. The squeegee is long and a little difficult to manage, maybe a little more so with his new boss, assistant manager Kurt Scoville, standing only a few feet away.
It's too much for Scoville to watch when the squeegee starts screeching on glass that's too dry.
He steps in.
"You're going to have to step back and lift it at the same time," he says to Damien.
Scoville cleans the first window while Damien watches the technique. Then the squeegee is passed back to Damien for a second attempt.
"Up and down, up and down," Scoville says as he watches. Damien has it now. "Yeah."
That's the first lesson in a long line to come. By the end of the summer, they're expected to know how to jack up a car and change a tire. They'll be greeting customers, and they'll be expected to be just as professional as the full-timers.
Lowe will check on their progress from week to week. He knows the implications are bigger. Three and a half hours in the afternoon during summer weekdays will give the kids something positive to focus on, and it will keep them off the streets.
The basic job skills and the resumes are one thing. Lowe didn't say it in his opening speech to them, but the human interaction and the relationships they'll build with their new coworkers are just as important. The life skills, Lowe calls them.
For now, the learning curve is slow. Jamal has a garbage bag to fill, Terrace and Trevon have tires to stack and Damien's got a lot more glass to clean.