Jacob Cotton, 21, works at Walmart. He’s participating in the Live Better U education program that offers several college degrees for $1 per day.

Area employers targeting young workers to fill workforce needs

Area employers struggling with a worker shortage that spans several industries have turned to high school students to fill jobs otherwise held by older adults.

Unemployment in Ohio dipped to 4.3 percent in April, worsening an already growing labor shortage among healthcare and skilled trades fields. Other industries are also understaffed and looking to a new pool of youth to fill workforce needs, said Doug Barry, president of Barry Staff.

“Everybody’s trying to come up with creative ways to make sure they can keep their product or their service level where it is right now,” Barry said. “We have a worker shortage everywhere and employers are just trying to expand that pool of people they can draw from. Everyone’s competing for the same people right now.”

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Premier Health, the largest health system in the area, earlier this year launched a program recruiting high school students to work in area hospitals as STNAs and in nutrition or environmental services, which includes cleaning workspaces.

“Healthcare in general has always had it’s own unique challenges, but now more than ever…we’re required to be a lot more creative on how we recruit,” said Larry Henry, manager of talent acquisition at Premier.

The program continues to grow and now has a couple dozen workers under the age of 18, Henry said. Before last year, Premier didn’t employ anyone who wasn’t at least 18 years old.

“They provide valuable assistance; they help alleviate some of the tasks that the current staff are doing,” Henry said. “For example, a student assisting getting a patient a glass of water…while that seems like a simple task, it actually takes time to do those types of things.”

High school students and recent graduates are also being hired into manufacturing, electrical and carpentry jobs to do tasks that free up the older than 18-year-old workers to operate the machinery and do other tasks that require certifications, Barry said.

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Local information technology firms are also hiring high school students following paths into IT fields, said Robin Fisher, superintendent of the Dayton Regional STEM school. Engineering and other advanced businesses are also more likely to take on high school interns now than they were 10 years ago.

“There is a demand for good employees, and a lot of our high school students can be very good employees, so there are opportunities here,” said Chris Kershner, executive vice president of the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce.

Even large chain grocery stores are starting to hire teens as young as 14 or 15 to fill the need, Barry said.

Hunter Hughs, a 19-year-old 2018 graduate of the Green County Career Center, started working at Key Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram in Xenia during October of his senior year. He went to school part time and worked part time to jumpstart his career.

Key offers at least one high school student a year help in funding their education through the Career of Automotive program at Sinclair Community College, said Cameron Tobey, co-owner of Tobey auto group.

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Giving jobs to high schoolers and other young adults gives them experience and helps meet workforce needs, but it also helps employers build future full-time staff, she said.

“We can absolutely raise them in our image. They come to us truly with no bad habits because it’s from the ground up,” Tobey said. “If they move on, move out of the city, move out of the state, they have some real good skills wherever they go.”

Walmart recently expanded a program to offer education opportunities to young adults and high school students in an effort to recruit more to work at the retail giant.

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Walmart is offering high school students consistent shifts up to 13 hours a week, free ACT and SAT prep, up to seven hours of free college credit through Live Better U’s College Start program and a debt-free college degree in technology, business or supply chain management at six different nonprofit universities.

Earlier this month, the company announced plans to expand its Live Better U education, which first launched last year and now includes 14 technology degrees and certificates.

Jacob Cotton, a 21-year-old supervisor at the Moraine Walmart, is working on a cyber security degree through Walmart’s program.

“I was already working at Walmart for about a year before the program started. That was one of my incentives to stay at Walmart though,” Cotton said.

Working skilled trade jobs helps high school students really learn what opportunities are out there, Barry said. Many are pushed to attend college and never learn that there are high-paying careers in manufacturing and skilled trade jobs. Others learn that they don’t want to work in carpentry every day and realize college is their next step.

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