Hiring teenagers today

In today’s super-tight labor market, employers are increasingly turning to teen-aged workers to fill the gaps in their labor force. The Wall Street Journal highlighted this trend—and the surprising successes it has spawned—in a recent article headlined “Facing Historic Labor Shortages, Companies Snap Up Teenagers.”

The article opens with a story date-lined Loveland, Colorado:

Jerry Stooksbury, the president of Avionics Specialists, LLC, needed to produce an airplane instrument panel last fall, but had only two employees able to complete the task quickly.

One was out sick. The other was in high school.

He called the high-schooler, 17-year-old Thayer McCollum. Thayer, who starts his days drinking chocolate milk and blasting indie rock, works part-time operating mechanical-drawing software for aircraft parts. He came in to do the project and still had time for homework.

After the longest stretch of continuous job creation on record, says the Journal, employers ranging from General Electric and Michelin North America to a Wisconsin nursing home and an Ohio turbine-parts manufacturer are expanding their search for talented workers to the labor market’s youngest segment.

Abigail Wozniak, a labor economist at the University of Notre Dame, explains that one advantage younger people may bring is that they “often have better computer skills” than older workers.

According to the Journal,

Employers are plucking skilled students from vocational programs at high schools. Some companies are dropping age and experience requirements so they can consider teens. Others offer flexible schedules to accommodate extracurriculars and sports.

The share of working teens from 16 to 19 years of age is increasing for the first time since the 1990s—to almost 31 percent in March 2018, says the Journal. The unemployment rate for Hispanic teens is the lowest on record, and the rate for black teens is just above a record low.

In the last three years, Starbucks Corp. has hired 50,000 employees between ages 16 and 24 who were neither working nor in school. Starbucks Senior Vice President John Kelly told the Journal that these young workers

stayed in their jobs at similar or better rates than other hires. That helps ease turnover, he said, lower training costs and improve customer service.

Meanwhile, continues the Journal,

the share of teens working in health services more than doubled in the past twenty years, and the portion working in computer and data services rose nearly as much, Census Bureau data show.

Companies are going after teenagers more aggressively, as demonstrated at a high-school machining-skills competition in Cincinnati in January. There, 27 companies showed up to search for talent, about double the number last year, said organizer David Fox, who called the level of interest “crazy.”

Some policy-makers are seeking ways to make it easier for employers to hire more teens:

A U.S. House bill filed in March would amend regulations that prevent commercial truck drivers under age 21 from crossing state lines. U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D. Minn.) is looking at ways to lower the age limit to operate some heavy machinery to 17 from 18 for high-schoolers in technical-training programs.

The Journal highlights the case of Julian Cornwall, a Cincinnati high-school junior with strong machining skills. He says he has received 13 job offers, and chose Meyer Tool, Inc.,

which agreed to work around his football schedule and pay his college tuition if he stays on. He will start in June at $13 an hour, up from the $8.57 he makes at a J.C. Penney men’s department. Pay for machinists at Meyer’s, which makes gas-turbine engine parts, can rise to $45 an hour.

“In this day and age, manufacturers are basically fighting over good employees,” said Deanna Adams, Meyer’s human-resources director.