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.

Comments

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Sid Saltfork wrote on June 19, 2012 at 11:06 am

Bought a tire there last summer.  I noticed two other men watching the work thru the large window in the store.  We commented on the over tightening of the new tires being put on vehicles.  There was little to no supervision of the young men working.  The three of us requested that a full time employee put on our tires.  The manager seemed miffed until we explained about the over tightening of tires on the previous vehicles.  He agreed to have his full time employees do our vehicles.  I am not complaining about the young men working there last summer; but I do feel that the employer should have enough employees to adequately train, and supervise them.  Putting tires on a vehicle that families use is not the same as picking up trash in the lot.  The cost of having a supervisor from a local agency that administers the money for the program could be saved if the local employers just hired local youth without the subsidy being provided by the taxpayers.  I believe the cost was $200,000.00 this year.  The youth earn $866.25 over the summer if they keep their jobs.  I doubt that 230 local youth are being served in the program when the administrative costs are figured in.  The number of youth needing to learn work skills far exceeds the number served. In the past; employees of the administering agency had first notice of the jobs, and were engaged in the selection of recipients of the program.  Where did people learn work skills before taxpayer paid youth work training?

Utowner wrote on June 19, 2012 at 3:06 pm

At 29, this comment will make me sound much older than I am, but when are we going to stop holding the youth of our nation's hands?  Seriously, at 15 years old you need a government program to inspire you to get a job and then, beyond that, need a supervisor OUTSIDE of your place of employment to encourage you to show up, work hard, and take care of the employment details?  What happened to self-motivation to get ahead?  At 15, I knew I wanted a car in a year and knew that it would require insurance.  So, I got myself a job - and went to it!  No one found it for me, no one patted me on the back.  I walked into businesses and was turned away or filled out applications and spoke with managers.  It was life experience.  I learned about business and social interaction.  

We are trying to box our kids in and tell them that all experiences are similar and there will always be someone to guide you through life and pat you on the back.  What a horrible disservice to our children.  Not only do we rob them of social development and critical skill acquisition, but we create the a false sense of security that someone will always care or be there to help them.  Life is rough; realizing that you must work and that usually, whatever hardship you are facing can be minimized by telling yourself 'there is someone in this (insert any geographic place) that has it WAY worse than me' is an experience we should foster.

rsp wrote on June 19, 2012 at 9:06 pm

It doesn't make you old. Some of these kids aren't around anyone who tells them how to go about getting a job. That may seem silly to you but you were taught those things from an early age. When you have a single parent who works long hours and the kids come home to an empty house nobody is teaching those skills. If nobody is working then they don't even see that. 

We have a divided country where one half can provide opportunities at enrichment and the other can't afford them, and in many cases are unaware of their existence. You're more likely to hear 'let them be kids" on one side of town and on the other they are being driven to all of their programs. How do they go about getting into college if they've been raised by parents who didn't go and don't think it's possible? If you don't think something is possible where would you get the inspiration but from someone else who could show you the way. 

sameeker wrote on June 19, 2012 at 3:06 pm

Do the businesses have to pay for the workers, or is this just more corporate welfare? When I was a teenager, I wirked on a similar program. The difference was that we worked for organizations like the city street and water department, the county highway, schools and other public organizations. that way, the taxpayers benefitted as well as those of us earning our pay. I also learned to do such things as fix water meters and operate heavy equipment on those jobs.

rsp wrote on June 19, 2012 at 9:06 pm

I remember when they had to go cut weeds. Not much real job experience there. I seem to recall the change having to do with the work helping them be employable. For a while there it was anything but.