Each fall, kids return to school with clean notebooks, sharpened pencils, and the excitement of starting something new. For those students in high school, many are also on the lookout for a job, whether for some extra spending money, for a class requirement, to find some independence, or to gain some experience in a potential career.
Depending on the industry and the nature of the job, high school students eager for a paycheck may be the perfect candidates to fill open roles. Approximately 38% of high school graduates don’t go on to college. These students likely aren’t sure what they want to do after high school ends. By offering them an opportunity today, you can start a long-term relationship. Even if they don't stay employed with you for very long, they may be happy to recommend you to future job-seekers and customers.
While hiring high school students has its challenges, these challenges are manageable. Some of them are outside your control, such as laws like the Fair Labor Standard Act (FLSA). Others are self-imposed, such as how you build your staff schedules or educational requirements you have added to your job descriptions.
You should look at both federal and state requirements before hiring a high school student. The FLSA, for example, includes restrictions on when minors can work and the job duties they can perform. These rules will vary based on the age of the minor and the specific job. Generally, 14 is the minimum age for employment. State laws may require a work permit or have different age restrictions. Note that if there are differences between the state and federal requirements, the law that is more protective of the minor applies.
FLSA scheduling limitations are for workers aged 15 and under. These minors can’t work during the school day (of the minor’s school district) and can only work for limited hours during specific timeframes after the school day. When school is in session, these students are limited to working 18 hours a week and three hours per school day. When school isn’t in session, they can’t work more than 40 hours a week or eight hours each day. They also can’t work before 7 a.m. or after 7 p.m., other than between June 1 and Labor Day, when they’re allowed to work until 9 p.m. Narrow exceptions from these scheduling restrictions exist, such as if the minor has already graduated from high school.
In addition to these limitations, students may bring scheduling challenges to the workplace. Many students have after-school activities that last a few weeks to a few months, which means their availability likely won’t be consistent throughout the year.
Many employers have already figured out these challenges—many food service or retail establishments have discovered ways to thrive with teens on their staff. Your workplace may not have the same level of flexibility, but it could be worth your time and energy to consider what options you have to create a more flexible work schedule. Allowing employees to work split shifts or sign up for open shifts may be an option. This may give your employees more control over their own schedules and benefit you as well.
Types of Roles
The FLSA limits the work 14-15 year-olds can perform; these students should only work in non-manufacturing or non-hazardous roles. You can find the specific duties that workers ages 14-15 can perform on the platform.
While 16-17-year-olds don’t have as many restrictions, there are still some safety-driven prohibitions. Many of these revolve around power-driven machinery (such as forklifts, woodchippers, or meat slicers). Some restrictions have exceptions for students enrolled in an approved apprenticeship or student-learner program.
If your roles don’t involve potentially dangerous tasks and aren’t in a dangerous environment, you may be able to hire minors, especially ages 16-17. Be sure to check both state and federal law.
Requiring a High School Diploma
Obviously, you can’t hire high school students if the job you’re hiring for requires a high school diploma. If your job descriptions have this requirement, ask yourself why. What skills would a high school graduate bring that someone who is 16 or 17 wouldn’t?
If a role doesn’t have age prohibitions, you might reconsider your educational requirements, focusing your job descriptions on the skills you need rather than educational qualifications that aren’t necessary.
Attracting High School Students
If you decide that you’re open to hiring high school students, how do you get them to want to work for you? Obviously, pay is the first thing that will get students to your door, but it might not be enough to keep them. Most high school students aren’t looking for health insurance or a retirement plan, but, especially in a small business, you may be able to offer them more than just a job. In addition to offering a paycheck, a part-time job can provide both training and experience.
You can offer them a great deal of valuable training beyond the duties of their jobs. Let them see all areas of the business while they continue working in their current role. Show them what it takes to run a business. This training could be formal with time set aside for it or informal as questions arise. When possible, let them sit in on meetings or get their input on inventory, marketing, or other areas they may be interested in. Imparting lessons you’ve learned from managing a business builds your reputation as an employer of choice for young employees eager to add valuable knowledge and skills to their college applications or resumes.
In addition to teaching skills related to the working world, you can also pass along important life skills that will last these young workers through adulthood. With the scheduling challenges that will arise, you can show them how to manage time and set priorities—understanding that the job might not be the top priority for them. You can show the students that they can balance their working life, school life, and personal life. You can guide them as they make decisions about the different commitments they may have made.
Many high school students value camaraderie, competition, and challenges—each a pillar of the high school experience that people often miss after they graduate. The workplace can also be a place that facilitates these experiences. The kind of workplace that appeals to enterprising and energetic high school students is also one that can motivate all your employees, whatever their age. Build a culture that encourages strong professional relationships and productive teams.
It’s a challenging time to be hiring, so it’s logical to expand your candidate pool in any way you can, including to high school students. As you consider the challenges involved in hiring minors, they may seem overwhelming, but know that they aren’t in place to make your life more difficult. They are there to protect young workers. Many organizations make them work, and maybe you can too.