There was a time when teens clamored for retail work. They’d earn quick cash during their time off from school, while retailers would benefit from this available and eager workforce during times of high need — creating a perennial symbiotic relationship.
But times have changed.
Where teens once flocked to retail jobs, their options for employment today are much more diverse. Emboldened by a growth economy, an abundance of opportunities for paid internships, and a desire for experiences that simultaneously boosts their resume and matches their values, teens aren’t filling retail roles like they once did.
A recent Pew Research Center data revealed there has been a nearly 36 percent drop in teen summer retail workers between July 2000 and the most recent summer season. This decline is even more notable considering the broader reduction in the teen labor force since the Great Recession.
Key steps to getting teen workers’ attention
For retailers, there are key benefits to hiring and maintaining a solid base of teen workers. One advantage, for instance, is that they can be a valuable buffer during high-traffic seasons when high customer demand can otherwise place an unwelcome burden on staff. Retailers that find themselves seasonally short-staffed don’t only suffer revenue declines; they also risk driving down employee morale to the point of fueling attrition. Staffing up on teens during these seasons creates a cushion of flexibility.
In a decisively candidate-driven job market like the present, retailers need to go the extra mile to attract and retain a younger generation of workers, both part-time and seasonal. Here are some strategic steps retailers can follow to reach this demographic:
● Use digital tools to provide continuous training: Today’s teens are more career and growth-focused than ever. Therefore, if they see a retail job as involving repetitious daily functions without an upward trajectory, they’ll look for opportunities elsewhere. If retailers want to attract teen workers, they should create paths for advancement and develop upskill opportunities within those roles. Retailers can create these opportunities by leveraging digital workplace tools that make it easy to integrate training materials, instructional videos, and quizzes into employees’ workdays. These mobile tools are particularly appealing for teens, who — as members of the “digital native” generation — expect to seamlessly incorporate mobile devices in their daily work.
● Establish better communication to improve the employee experience: Take Josh as an example, he works at a Manhattan branch of the menswear retailer Bonobos. As an article in TIME Money explained, he is not a sales associate. Instead, he’s a true brand ambassador. As an employee of Bonobos, Josh has developed a deep understanding of the brand and its offerings and therefore serves more of a consultative role. Josh’s responsibility makes him feel like a contributing member of the organization.
Retailers can create brand ambassadors by communicating directly with their frontline workforce. Digital workplace platforms enable open communication; letting associates know that their voice matters, engaging them in such a way that makes them feel part of a culture that inspires them to deliver excellent customer service and be self-directed in seeking out opportunities to create store-level efficiencies.
● Oversee better task management: With many jobs to choose from, teens will steer clear of workplaces that seem chaotic and mismanaged, correctly assuming that this will mean more work for them. To build a teen workforce, retailers need to create an environment of clarity over confusion. They can create this environment by implementing digital tools that easily enable the distribution of instructional materials and checklists for frontline workers.
● Create flexibility through modern scheduling practices: When it comes to when and where teens work, they desire flexibility. Retailers can provide self-service, digital tools that allow employees to autonomously trade shifts, claim open shifts, or adjust their work schedules while maintaining workflows, business rules and policies. This practice gives teen employees the ability to work across different locations, satisfying their needs while optimizing labor allocations and reducing scheduling errors.
By following these steps, retailers can set themselves apart in a candidate’s market and successfully land a needed base of teen workers.
Steven Kramer is CEO of WorkJam.