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Businesses develop skills in young workers

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Dryden Mutual Co. President Robert Baxter, right, stops by the work stations of underwriters Kimberly Stiles, left, and Mario Clarke Friday at their offices in Dryden. Baxter is among the local business owners who help to train young people new to the work force the skills they need to succeed.

When applying for any kind of position, companies expect the applicant to approach the job in a professional manner with basic employment skills, but many young individuals do not.

There was enough of a common need among local businesses for young applicants to be better versed in skills like interviewing and communication that Cortland High School will introduce a Career Essentials class in the fall.

Technology and Business Department Coordinator Chuck Petit at Cortland High School said earlier this month he proposed the class because he heard from many local businesses that some young applicants lack employment etiquette.

Many local businesses state they are willing to work with a young employees and help them grow, but only if they are willing to put in the effort. And sometimes, for businesses, that kind of young employee can be hard to find.

Kelly Davis, manager assistant at the Ramada Cortland, at 2 River St., said among applicants — 17 to 27 years old — there is a “very common theme” of lacking a work ethic. Also they tend to feel entitled to the job.

The hotel gets hundreds of applications when a new position opens, Davis said. Applicants are given an application form to fill out, which also acts as their first test to see how well they spell and pay attention to the requirements of the form.

“You wouldn’t believe what they do,” Davis said.

On multiple occasions, applicants have put their name in the spot where their social security number should have gone, and vice versa, he said. Their spelling can be atrocious at times, too. However, there are times when 40-year-olds have worse spelling than 17-year-olds, Davis said.

Two of the biggest traits in an employee that Davis said the hotel looks for are reliability and a good personality.
“We can train anyone if they are willing to learn,” he said. “They have to be eager to learn.”

Initiative is a trait Glenn Reisweber, Lime Hollow Nature Center’s executive director, said he wished he saw more of in young applicants. While he prides himself on mentoring young employees, initiative is something he cannot teach.

It is a trait applicants either have or do not; much like passion. Reisweber said he looks for applicants who show passion for the position.

“It is tricky to get in a young person,” he said.

Most of the people he hires have either interned or volunteered at Lime Hollow because observing how people work is the best way to see if they have initiative and passion, Reisweber said. He and his team are willing to work with the interns if they are willing to learn.

“We’ll nurture folks that want to be on the team,” Reisweber said. “We look for someone who is coachable and can make a difference in campers’ experience.”

Leadership skills are the main trait he looks for in future employees. He said he looks for someone who can be mentored and easily become a mentor to others. It is rare if he finds someone young with vibrant leadership skills, he said, but he is “not afraid to put an 18-year-old in a leadership role” if they show the talent for it.

Most of the time, however, only 1 to 2 percent of the younger applicants who look for jobs at Lime Hollow are rejected. That is because his best candidates spent time working as a volunteer there first.

“Volunteer and get involved. Get in front of an employer,” Reisweber said. “It is a great screening process, especially with interns.”

A few years ago, the Dryden Mutual Insurance Co., of Dryden, set up an internship program with the Dryden, Groton and McGraw school districts, which has helped the company avoid hiring issues with young applicants, said company chief executive Robert Baxter.

“We’re vetting future employees,” Baxter said. “More than 30 percent of our employees have come from the program.”
Most of the students he has come work for him come well prepared from school, he said. “Students come in well versed more so than some adult applicants.”

The Cortland Career Works Center works a lot with young people, ages 16 to 24; mostly those who have dropped out of school. The center helps them to build essential career skills.

Each person needs help with different things, said Diane Wheaton, employment and training director at the center. Some need to learn about attendance; the reality they cannot just skip work every time they have a headache.

Others may need help with problem-solving skills or communication skills, Wheaton said.

The center will help young people get work experience where they can make and learn from mistakes. And even if they do make mistakes, Wheaton said the main thing for any employee to do is “show up every day with a positive attitude and the employer will take time to teach them.”

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