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 Hiring non-traditional employees

Some unique options in selecting new employees

The big box store – the one with the image problem – once ran a series of television commercials that featured some of their non-traditional employees. Perhaps you saw the ones in which there is a senior citizen or someone sitting in a wheelchair, or someone who is mentally challenged working as a greeter or visiting with customers in their stores.

The commercials do not sell any products, but instead work to give a "feel good" message about the store. Other than the usual, "that's nice", you may have thought, "Of course, they can do it. They are a big company, and have lots of stores and employees. They can take one of those people and find something to keep them busy."

Maybe so, but the concern we express is that you may be missing out on a great opportunity. Not the "feel good" idea, but missing out on the opportunity of having a fantastic employee.

With both of these groups, as well as teenagers, we are considering employees who for the most part do not have the traditional needs and wants of other employees. Retirees are often looking for something to keep them occupied as well as providing them with opportunities to utilize the life skills they have obtained throughout their years while many teenagers are only looking for some spending money.

With employees who have nontraditional challenges, the objective is as varied as those individuals you will be interviewing for the job. There will be some who are working toward returning to the work force. You could find yourself considering someone who had previously been a stockbroker, but is now desiring to relearn skills that can be taught with an entry-level job.

You could also be considering a person who is physically disabled from their traditional work, but will be an excellent worker for your business. There may also be potential employees who will only be able to handle tightly regimented tasks. Tasks that often turn out to be the jobs that have a high employee turnover rate because traditional employees may consider the tasks to be beneath them.

For those deciding to consider retirees, pick up your phone and immediately call your local chapter of the American Association of Retired People (AARP). While you may think AARP is only busy publishing a magazine, promoting senior citizen discounts, and arranging for charter groups of their members to travel, they are also busy promoting many of their members as excellent employees.

From the experiences of this writer in his store, seniors were one of the best sources of talent.   These employees want to work to prove to themselves their talents are not fading away, for the chance to meet and visit with other folks, and simply to keep themselves busy. Scheduling these retirees to work is much easier than most other employees because their time restraints and outside commitments are considerably less.

In our area, the local AARP chapter even had a grant program available so that our store would be reimbursed for up to 40 hours of the retiree's pay as we integrated them into our work force.

Teenagers were a different type of challenge. Again from personal experience, we had poor results with the majority of teenagers that simply walked in the door looking for a job. Perhaps the tell-tale sign was the occasion of a teenager bringing in a completed job application. However, they often pulled ten completed applications from their pocket, unable to determine which application came from which business. It wasn’t as if they were looking for a place to utilize their talents as much as they were just looking for someplace to spend a few hours and collect their check.

From situations with those teenagers that were unable to fulfill their schedule because of sports, class activities, homework, or even parents that decided to go out of town on short notice, hiring a teenager is often a challenge. Before looking at how we hire these teenagers, we should look at what we are asking these teenagers to do in our business. While in some situations we find an outstanding employee, for many of us the number of teenagers we have employed is almost countless.

With that thought in mind, too often we are asking for adult results from someone that is several years from adulthood. As we hire a teenager, if we learn of their interests we can more often find tasks that engage their talents. By learning what a student’s aspirations are, we can hopefully tailor some of the tasks we assign to these students to appeal to their future plans.

As an example, a student that aspires to a career in design we could allow them to build the merchandise displays in the store. And for a student that aspires to a career in architecture we could engage them in jobs where we are helping a customer to landscape their home or business. The idea here is that we would finds assignments for our student employees that they would see as a preview of some of the work they will do in their adult career.

As an alternative to hiring from off the street, we would suggest several ways of finding teenage employees. The first potential source of teenage employees is a nearby high school that has a business education program. In many schools there is a Distributive Education Clubs of America (DECA) program that allows a student to spend part of their day in the classroom, and their afternoon in your business. A part of their grade comes from their efforts in your store. You should expect to see occasional visits from their instructor checking on everything from their promptness to their attitude and their efforts.
 
In many communities, schools have Future Farmers of America (FFA) programs. In these classes, the students are taught many of the skills that will make excellent workers in your business. And like the students you would find in the DECA program, the FFA instructor is the proper place to begin your search for a new teenage employee.

Another place that this writer will highly recommend as a place to search for teenage employees are the local houses of worship. In our stores we found that the teenagers that were actively involved with other teenagers in their church were more likely to be mature and responsible. Contacting the adults and church staff members that work with the youth is a great way to increase your chances of hiring some of the better teenagers in your community.

Before providing information for hiring the second group of nontraditional employees, we should begin with resolving some of the frequently mentioned concerns. From a survey conducted of those utilizing employees with challenges by Mason-Dixon Political/Media Research, they found that 70% of those businesses said the disabled person had a favorable effect on their other employees. An even higher percentage of responses said the workers were hard workers, and even more respondents said these employees were dependable.

While many of these businesses were in buildings that were already compliant with American Disabilities Act (ADA), no business reported they had to make any changes to their facility as a result of their having hired a physically disabled individual.

In locating candidates for employment, you should begin by contacting organizations such as the local chapter of a mental health agency, the handicapped training centers, your newspaper and even the Chamber of Commerce. As you begin working with an organization, you will likely be assigned a placement specialist who will spend time with you and your business in an effort to understand your wants and needs. The specialist will then have an understanding of the job and your facilities. 

The shop owners we spoke with stated that the physically disabled individuals they hired often became permanent employees. We were also told that the disabled individual was usually very creative in finding ways to complete their assigned tasks, and within a comparable time frame.

Employees in this category demonstrated the same capability of handling jobs, although all were support type jobs, that any other individual might attempt.

Working with employees that are mentally or emotionally disabled, the businesses we spoke with stated these employees were utilized to complete many of the basic tasks – checking in merchandise, stocking shelves, and answering telephones.

One of the positive comments we heard from these retailers was that their disabled employees did not display a "this job is beneath me" attitude. They also made a point to explain that these disabled individuals are not unintelligent, but some do require a regimented job sequence because they are easily distracted.

The "traditional" mentally or emotionally handicapped person is between the ages of 25 and 45. In the case of the emotionally handicapped employee, their previous vocations may surprise you. One retailer told of an employee who had previously been a master chef, but had "broke down" and was now attempting to rebuild their life.

Perhaps the positive results are due in part to the tremendous efforts by the caseworker from each agency. In addition to the initial work done by these people, case workers have often made suggestions for "job carving" - a situation where they take the one job and divide it among two or more of their disabled clients so as to provide you with the completed task you need.

With many of the agencies, the disabled employee is a part of an ongoing educational program. With many of the agencies, there may be a time limit as to how long the disabled person can work at one business. As you might think, "Just when I get this disabled person trained to do the job, they are yanked out of here", remember it is the case worker from the agency that is doing the training for you. It is the caseworker's job to provide you with a seamless transition from one person to the next

While it is not the usual situation, there have been disabled people who have left the agency program and continued to work at one place. Caseworkers we spoke with said this situation constitutes less than one percent of all cases.

With all or any of these nontraditional employees, is this a possibility for every business? Depending on which type of person: retiree, teenager, physically mentally or emotionally handicapped, you may answer "yes" to one or more of the categories. Giving it a try was highly recommended by each of the retailers we spoke with. Again, according to the Mason-Dixon survey, more than 38% of businesses have already tried it. And of that group of businesses, 87% said they would encourage other employers to hire a person with a disability.

Hiring the nontraditional worker is not just for times when you are having challenges finding employees. It is for anytime that you are willing to look outside the box.

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This article is copyrighted by Tom Shay and Profits Plus Solutions, who can be reached at: PO Box 1577, St. Petersburg, Fl. 33731. Phone 727-464-2182. It may be printed for an individual to read, but not duplicated or distributed without expressed written consent of the copyright owner.

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