The is the second in a series of Ready NWI columns in the First Job series — an initiative of the Youth Employment Council of the Northwest Indiana Workforce Board. The series will review the story behind some of Region leaders’ and residents’ first jobs.
Arlene Pearson is chief human resources officer at Edgewater Behavioral Health Systems in Gary and is a member of the Northwest Indiana Workforce Board.
What was your first job as a teen?
I worked at Wendy’s in Hammond. I flipped burgers, made fries and worked the cash register.
How did you get the job?
I loved their homemade style burgers. This was the first Wendy’s location in Hammond. I told myself I had to work there. I walked in, filled out a job application, and got hired. I was still in high school and worked 10 to 20 hours week.
What did you earn?
It was a minimum wage job. I believe I earned $5.15 an hour.
And what did you do with your earnings?
I had a parent who saw to it that 10 percent of my earnings went to our church while another 10 percent went into a savings account. I was allowed to spend the remaining 80 percent on various items. Not a bad deal.
What did you learn about yourself at Wendy’s?
I found out that I enjoyed making customers happy. I’m sure that early experience is why I am in the field of human resources. I also learned that I was not very good at making hamburgers in a fast-paced environment. Timing is everything in preparing hamburgers to the customer’s specifications. The experience was invaluable as it taught me to get into management and to be the one who was yelling, “Get those burgers out!”
Why is it important for young people to hold a job?
As I quickly discovered at Wendy’s, it gives a person the opportunity to think about career choices and to discover your skills. It also gives a young person the chance to manage money and to open a bank account. A job allows a teen to understand the expectations of the employer (such as reliability, flexibility and adaptability). Finally, it allows a young person to prioritize purchasing decisions. They should be asking themselves, “Is it really important to buy that video game, or should I save some money for my books at school?”
Tell me about your current employer?
Edgewater Behavioral Health Services has established itself as a leader in providing quality lifestyle interventions through a full scope of behavioral healthcare services. We have served the residents of Gary and other surrounding communities for over 40 years.
As the chief human resources officer for Edgewater, what are you looking for in job applicants?
I am looking for candidates who can work with clients in a customer service setting. Customer service is key in our industry as well as understanding basic office skills. A teen worker can learn these skills when given an opportunity to shadow another staff member.
What advice do you have for employers that hire youth?
In the beginning, don’t expect the same productivity from a young person that you are getting from your more seasoned workers. And they may need help in developing a strong work ethic. Be patient with them. I’m not suggesting that you lower the bar regarding qualifications, but be clear to convey your expectations. Today’s generation is different than previous generations. Also, an appreciation of the cultural differences in the workplace would be helpful.
The READY NWI partnership supports the unique aspects of community, school, and student, and embraces a commitment to regional thinking and acting in order to ensure prosperity by meeting the skill and education needs of employers throughout Northwest Indiana.