How to Hire Teenagers

Discover everything you need to know about hiring teens so you stay in compliance with the laws that govern the work of people under 18.

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How to Hire Teenagers

Here's what you need to know:

  • There are federal and state laws that govern the employment of minors
  • It’s also important to check whether there are any local laws on the books in your particular city
  • Employers should know where to reach teens to hire them and look for positive traits they have outside of hard skills
  • Be prepared to train, guide, and lead teens after hiring
  • Offer competitive wages when hiring teenagers

From farmers’ markets to lifeguard stands, to summer camps and many in between, businesses across industries rely on teenagers to meet their seasonal summer employment needs.

Some businesses have been relying on this demographic. They’ve got it down. But what about the new businesses or the expanding businesses that haven’t hired teenagers before?

You might be surprised to know that there are laws that govern the labor of those under 18 in particular. And these laws can be found at both the federal and state levels.

Here’s what businesses of all shapes and sizes should know and consider as they endeavor to hire teenage employees.

Key federal child labor laws for employers to know

There are federal and state laws that govern the employment of minors — those who are under 18 years of age. First, the federal employment minimum age is 14. This means that you can’t hire anyone who isn’t at least 14 years old no matter where you are in the country.

Beyond the minimum, the U.S. Department of Labor outlines restrictions for the number of hours that people under the age of 16 can legally work. Federally permissible working hours for 14-year-olds and 15-year-olds under the Fair Labor Standards Act include:

  • 3 hours of work on a school day
  • 18 hours total in a school week
  • 8 hours on a non-school day
  • 40 hours in a non-school week
  • Work is only allowed between 7 am-7 pm during most of the year
  • From June 1 through Labor Day, nighttime work hours are extended to 9 pm.

Plus, the Department of Labor outlines certain jobs and industries that minors cannot work in. These jobs are those that include:

  • Woodworking machinery
  • Metal forming machinery
  • Paper manufacturing machines
  • The use of circular or band saws
  • Industrial baking equipment
  • Meat-processing machines
  • Apparatuses like forklifts, cranes, and freight elevators
  • Roofing
  • Demolition
  • On-site mining operations
  • Explosive storing or manufacturing
  • Sawmills and logging
  • Brick and tile manufacturing
  • Any job that involves exposure to radioactive material
  • Most excavation work

This is, however, just the federal baseline.

Understand the child labor laws in your state

Additional child labor laws vary from state to state. For example, in California, minors need a permit to work and employers need a permit to employ them. In the Golden State, kids as young as 12 are technically able to get a work permit, but the available jobs for them are limited.

In New York State, 16- and 17-year-olds need written permission from a parent or guardian to work between 10 pm-midnight on the day before a school day. Minors of any age can’t work during school hours, even children who are homeschooled.

Step 1 when hiring teenagers is understanding federal child labor laws. The next step is understanding state-level child labor laws in your particular state. It’s always best to double-check that there aren’t any local laws on the books in your city, too.

Know where to reach teenagers to hire them

Teenagers practically exist on a different planet that their parents and other adults. They don’t search for work on job websites the way that their parents might. Instead, teenagers spend more of their time learning about job opportunities from companies or brands they like on social media.

Even if you have a job posted somewhere else, be sure to blast the message on your social media platforms.

One way that teenagers do find jobs in a way that’s similar to adults is through word of mouth. If you’re looking to hire more teens and already have a few in your ranks, let them know. They can tell their friends and classmates. Plus, referrals from already stellar employees is always one of the best ways to find more talent.

Even if you have a job posted somewhere else, be sure to blast the message on your social media platforms.

Another excellent way to find teenage talent to hire is by partnering with high schools. Does your local high school offer an annual job fair that you can participate in? Even if they don’t, maybe the school would let you set up a booth for a couple of days to recruit new hires.

School officials will likely be able to help connect you to the teachers who might have a better sense of potential candidates. If the role you have is a creative one, consider consulting the art and design teachers.

Look for positive traits teens have outside of hard skills

You’re looking at a group of workers who are probably on the hunt for their very 1st job. This means that you won’t be able to look for hard skills the way that you might be able to with older candidates.

So, what do you look for if you can’t look for hard skills? Well, 1st you identify what’s truly needed for that particular job at your particular company.

If your business is all about customer service, consider hiring a teenager who is an excellent communicator. This might be a teen who interviews well or maybe one who is on their school’s debate team for example.

Soft skills in the workplace can make a major difference. Look for teenage applicants who express a willingness and eagerness to learn. Look for someone who enjoys trying new things or who isn’t intimidated by a lack of clarity.

When you’re interviewing a teenager, ask them things about the experience they do have. What has being on the soccer team taught them? What has it demanded of them? How would they apply what they’ve learned as a member of a sports team or another group to being a member of a work team?

There is no solid set of questions to ask in order to determine the right skills. It’s about understanding the job you’re hiring for and having a clear understanding of what will (and won’t!)  make someone successful on the job.

Be prepared to train, guide, and lead teens after hiring

You have to be prepared to teach teens not only about their particular job, but about work in general. Especially when you’re hiring people into their very 1st jobs, there’s going to be a learning curve. You and your fellow managers and leaders have to be prepared for it.

One thing that can go a long way in hiring teenagers is a solid employee handbook and crystal-clear expectations for both their role and professional conduct as a whole. The more you can demystify work for them, the better they’ll be able to live up to the expectations of the job.

Effectively training teenagers can be quite the commitment. It’s also a huge responsibility — you’re setting the bar for all of their future employment expectations. But if you do it well, chances are you’ll have loyal employees that will keep coming back summer after summer or year after year.

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Offer competitive wages when hiring teenagers

Just because they’re teenagers doesn’t mean they don’t have financial needs. Of course, you’ll likely be paying someone with no experience less than someone with experience.

But that doesn’t mean that, in the realm of 1st jobs, you can’t offer a competitive salary to your teenage hires. In this way, they’re very much like any other age group. Offer them adequate pay for the work they’re doing and you won’t struggle to retain them.

It can be daunting to hire people from a whole new group of workers. But 1 of the great things about teenagers is that they’re generally ready and willing to give you their 2 cents.

Ask them what they want and need. Check in on how things are going. Ask how things can be better. Open and honest dialogue can go a long way in smoothing out what could otherwise be a bumpy process.

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