Two-thirds of American adolescents between the ages of 12 and 18 are employed, and cleaning and building services can provide lucrative opportunities for this age group. Building service contractors that work with minors have a prime opportunity to improve safety, retention and management practices, while reaping a variety of other rewards.

While some kids may sneer at doing these types of jobs, others find pride in them. The social perks of receiving a decent wage outweigh potential blows to their personal prestige.

Bruce Tulgan, founder of Rainmaker Thinking based in New Haven, Conn., says that’s because today’s Gen Y was raised on a child rearing and educational system that molded them on self esteem.

“You have to take a hands on transactional approach,” he says. “They will be the highest performing workers you ever had, but you have to do it day-to-day.”

Tulgan recommends having a brief coaching session each day to spell out the guidelines and parameters. Then, at the end of day, reward them exactly in proportion to their results.

“Say here’s the deal and give them concrete goals and clear deadlines. Define, define, define and create ownership of work every day in each person,” he adds.

Tulgan says it also helps to be flexible. Expect to negotiate details like days off, and things they can do to personalize their job.

To find this kind of highly engaged talent, Tulgan recommends becoming well known in the community as a great place to work, and getting to know folks who know kids — guidance counselors, boy scout leaders, camp counselors — so they’ll think of you when they discover so and so’s son or daughter is seeking a part time job. Referrals of friends and family from current employees are another rich source of talent.

Screening, he says, is a always a fantastic idea. “Be up front,” he encourages, adding that a BSC shouldn’t be afraid to say ‘we work smart and fast all day long. That’s what we do and that’s what we’re about.’”

Money is hardly ever a primary motivator, even for a teenager. Lamar Wanberg, custodial trainer for the Jordan School District in Sandy, Utah, admits motivation can be a challenge for the 900 student workers he manages in a given year. Many kids have never worked before, perhaps not even at home. Job cards outlining duties and quotas are meant to make adherence easier, but are sometimes disregarded. Of course, supervisors document performance, discuss it with their charges, and administer the necessary discipline, up to termination.

When it comes to money, the federal youth minimum wage allows employers to pay $4.25 an hour to employees under the age of 20 during the first 90 consecutive calendar days beginning with the first day of work. After that, the federal minimum, currently $5.15, applies.

Know the law
If you decide to hire teenagers, they will not be able to do everything your older employees do. Child-labor laws are outlined by the USDOL Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). These laws differentiates between three age groups: 13 and under, 14 to 15, and 16 to 17.

Children 13 and younger are allowed to work in a business solely owned or operated by themselves or their parents, otherwise, 14 is the minimum age for non-agricultural employment.

Ages 14 and 15 are allowed to perform clean-up work using vacuums and floor waxers, and to do grounds maintenance. They are prohibited from using most power-driven machinery including mowers, cutters and trimmers, paper balers, cardboard compactors, or hoisting apparatus, or performing construction, repair, or any work performed on a window sill, ladder, scaffold or similar equipment. They may only work outside school hours after 7 a.m. and until 7 p.m., except during June 1 through Labor Day, when they can work until 9 p.m. Additionally, they can work no more than three hours on a school day, 18 in a school week, eight on a non-school day, and 40 in non-school week.

Those who are 16 and 17 years old don’t have hour restrictions but are prohibited from contact with power-driven machinery and any work standing on a window sill, ladder, scaffold or similar equipment.

Work permits (or proof of age certificates) may be required by the state in order to hire these young workers.

Work study
Another possibility for finding young workers is a work-study program at a local college or university. Private, for-profit businesses can apply for federal work study funding through participating colleges which gives experience to students and wage breaks for employers — they can receive up to 50 percent of a student’s wage.

There are no age limits for these work study arrangements, says Harold McCullough, senior program specialist in the Policy Liaison and Implementation Office of Federal Student Aid, with the U.S. Department of Education, and more and more adult and nontraditional students are enrolling.

McCullough says when applying as an employer, it is helpful to show how a student will receive practical experience in an academic field. For instance an engineering major interested in building design may be a good candidate for BSC work.

To apply, contact the local college financial-aid or job- placement office. You’ll be asked to sign an off-campus agreement that specifies job length, job availability and duties. The contract also outlines the school’s expectations for documentation and record keeping.

Hiring family
If you’re a BSCs operating as sole proprietor or in a partnership with only your spouse, you may also be able to find good employees in your own home, says Jeanie Farmer, partner at Smith & Gesteland in Sun Prairie, Wis., and chairperson of its Family Business Niche.

A plus? Children under 18 who are employed by their parents are not required to pay into social security or Medicare, and the employer does not match those line items. These families may also pay their child more and have him or her open a Roth IRA to put toward college tuition or retirement. The wage is deductible to the business, and the tax savings can be substantial. (If you aren’t the only owner, you can still hire your children, but you won’t get the tax savings.)

Safety first
Despite Fair Labor Standards Act safeguards, about 231,000 employees under the age of 18 are injured on the job annually. The U.S. Department of Labor Youth Rules Web site advises employers to remember that teens are not just “little adults.” Minors have little work and life experience to draw on, and it is the employer’s responsibility to ensure their safety and security.

Lori Veit is a business writer in Madison, Wis. She is a frequent contributor to
Contracting Profits.

Utah’s “Sweepers”: A Teen Clean Case Study
Lamar Wanberg, custodial trainer for the Jordan School District based in Sandy, Utah has been hiring and managing youth ages 14 to 18 for decades as part of his district’s “Sweeper Program,” a program that allows teenagers to perform some grounds maintenance and janitorial work in schools.

In a typical school year, Wanberg manages 900 Sweepers who each work 1.5 hours per day. Last year the program had 80 percent turnover, down from 100 percent the previous year. To what does he attribute the improvement? Improved screening and training.

Screening commences at Sweeper meetings every Tuesday night. Job seekers learn about the program’s mission and goals, and team cleaning. They’re given an application and instructed to take it home, complete it, have their parents sign it, and return it with references and required employment forms. During this same evening, Wanberg also runs a video showcasing the entry position and says, “if you don’t want to do this, please don’t bother returning the application.” This eliminates half of the candidates.

When applications return, those that aren’t completed properly removed from the running, which winnows out another 25 percent. New hires have 30 days to get to a Tuesday night training and get started as vacuum specialists.

“We always start them in team cleaning with a vacuum specialist” says Wanberg. “It’s the simplest, they’re not mixing chemicals, and it gives staff 30 days to administer OSHA bloodborne pathogen and hazardous communication training.”

After mastering that position, they’re promoted to light-duty specialist, and finally restroom specialist. Performance reviews occur twice per year, and incentives — pizza parties, show tickets, or personalized items donated from the principal’s discretionary fund — are awarded based upon building audits.

“The sweepers look forward to the audits for maintenance,” says Wanberg. “They say ‘when is our audit coming due?’ They get excited!”