If you’re looking for reliable employees, check out your local high school. Some of you may raise an eyebrow to this idea, but don’t sell it short just yet. Employing teenagers can be an excellent way to staff your workforce.

Just ask the folks at the AMVC Management Services in Audubon, Iowa, or the Sleezer Fertility Center in Aurelia, Iowa. Both employ students and couldn’t be happier with the results. It’s a win-win situation for both businesses. The companies get hard-working, reliable employees and the students learn valuable business lessons and earn money.

“I was looking for a way to get more high school students out here,” says Larance Christensen, manager of AMVC’s 2,400-sow multiplier unit. “I had a couple of students working for me about four years ago and I was worried about replacing them.”

Three years ago, Christensen proposed a student scholarship program to AMVC Management Services, a branch of the Audubon-Manning Veterinary Clinic. It supports a system of 25,000 sows including a closed-herd multiplication unit, 54,000 finishing spaces and 34,000 nursery spaces. AMVC operates a 500-head, PICboar stud in a joint venture with Pipestone Artificial Breeders, Pipestone, Minn.

Here’s how the employment program works. Interested students, beginning at age 14 or older, contact the AMVC human resources department. Students are paid an hourly wage, just like any other employee. During the school year, students work on the weekends and holidays. But in the summer, they usually put in nearly a 40-hour week by working every other day and alternating weekends. This allows students to fill in for regular employees who are on vacation.
But what sets this program apart from a regular part-time job is that students can earn up to $1,000 in scholarships. Once hired, a student must stay on the job through May of their senior year in high school and receive a diploma. For every year a student works for AMVC, they earn $250 toward a scholarship. The fiscal year runs from June through May. Otherwise, the $250 is prorated depending on when the student started during the year.

If a student terminates employment, either voluntarily or involuntarily, they forfeit the scholarship. Participating students receive a certificate on their senior class night, then receive their scholarship money once they show proof of enrollment in their second semester of college or trade school.

“Students aren’t required to pursue a career in agriculture field, but most of them do,” notes Stacy Andersen, AMVC human resources director.

As an H.R. director, she adds a word of caution – “when you’re dealing with students, especially those under the age of 18, it’s imperative to comply with child labor laws.” (See sidebar.) For example, each position associated with AMVC has a job description filed with the local Job Service Office. And, before a student is hired, his or her parents must sign a consent letter, plus the student must obtain a work permit.

Currently, 25 high school students from eight school districts in a five-county area are taking advantage of the scholarship program. “It’s a good way to support the secondary education of area kids and help out the community,” says Christensen.

The program shows students the various opportunities available in agriculture – from being a production employee to veterinarian to working with a management company. AMVC recruits students through FFA advisors, guidance counselors and current student employees.

One student taking advantage of the AMVC program is Gavin Yager, a senior at Audubon High School, he has worked for AMVC for two years. He chose pork production as a part-time job for many reasons. He has several friends that are employed with AMVC, he is active in FFA and enjoys working with animals. He plans to pursue pre-veterinary studies at Iowa State University this fall.

“I like working here,” says Yager. “ I work with animals, plus, it helps pay for college.” He works mainly in the breeding and gestation room, but helps out when needed in other areas.

“You’re only a kid once, and they need to be involved in other activities,” says Christensen. That’s the reason for having the students work only a limited schedule during the school year and providing flexibility in the summer. “I couldn’t run this barn without the high school students,” contends Christensen, who currently has four students working for him.

The Sleezer Fertility Center also is reaping the benefits of a partial high school workforce. Starting work at 4:30 a.m. may not appeal to everyone, but it works well for area high school students. They can come to work at the boar stud for two or three hours, take a shower and be ready for the rest of their school day. This frees up time for students to participate in athletics, band or other after-school activities.

Derrick Sleezer, operations manager, has employed students under this program for two years now. Normally, he has three or four students working for him at one time. Not only does Sleezer get hard workers; the students recruit their friends. His facility is a servicing agent for genetic companies and can house 136 boars.

“Students like working in the boar stud. It’s not heavy, hard, dirty work, but it does require a certain technique,” he says. “Having the right attitude is the biggest requirement to work here, plus being gentle and enjoy working with animals.” Sleezer doesn’t require the students to have worked with animals before. He trains them in all areas of the fertility center including the boar semen collection center and lab.

Christensen points out that the majority of students AMVC employs are growing up in town, and that they employ both boys and girls. Students are trained in all aspects of their respective facility. “Anything a full-time employee does and they want to learn, we let them do it,” notes Andersen.

In addition, the students are invited to attend monthly roundtable discussions, designed for the full-time employees to discuss any pertinent issues within the operation.

“The kids earn the respect of the adults,” contends Andersen. “It’s a good experience for them, especially if they’re going into agriculture.”

Like AMVC, Sleezer has some students that have lived or worked on farms and others that come from town. He looks for students that have a solid work ethic and are willing to learn.

Safety is something Sleezer puts a priority on, making sure it’s part of the students’ training program. “They have to learn what you can and can’t do with a boar,” he explains. “We do a lot of safety critiquing and training.

For instance, what happens if you get into a compromising situation?” Training and follow-up are important with any employee, but especially with young people.

Sleezer notes the biggest challenge with high school students is absenteeism. It’s not a major factor, but is always an issue. Students that he employs, work Monday through Saturday, with a rotating schedule on the weekends. “I try to be flexible, which allows them to be in sports, band or any other activity. Right now, Sleezer doesn’t offer an added scholarship program, but he has considered the idea.

“I’ve worked with a lot of people that carried the attitude that ‘teenagers don’t have a work ethic’,” stresses Sleezer. “It’s nice to see there are kids that do have one. I’m pleased with the work they do and that they’re willing to take responsibility.”

Any way you look at it, employing students is a win-win situation. Providing job opportunities for students is a great way to earn a good reputation in your community. It’s working for these operations and it could work for yours as well. n

Putting it all Together

If you’re interested in developing a program for student employees, here are a few tips from the experts:

1. Develop a partnership with your local school from a community standpoint, not just as a recruiting base. Ask yourself, what can your business contribute to the school program?

2. Develop a program for all the right reasons – encouraging students to learn and be a part of the agricultural industry in your local community. Don’t just do it for a labor source.

3. Work with your local Job Service to make sure that you’re in compliance with state and federal child labor laws.

4. Respect the fact that students are only a kid once. Meaning, offer a flexible schedule that allows them to be involved in other activities. But, you also need a solid commitment from the students. Otherwise, the situation will frustrate your full-time employees as well as the students.

5. Always, keep an employment or age certificate on file for every student under the age of 16. As a precaution, you may want to do this for everyone under the age of 18. The file should include the employee’s full name, home address, date of birth, certificate of training and a work permit. Iowa law requires these permits for all minor-age employees, your state may as well.

Filling Out Your Paperwork

If you now employ students or are considering the idea, make sure you understand your state’s child labor laws. Here are some tips from the Iowa Division of Labor.

Who needs a work permit? No one under the age of 16 is permitted to work with or without compensation unless they fill out a Work Permit. The employer must keep this on file and have it accessible to any person charged with enforcing the Child Labor Act. Also, the employer must keep a complete list of all employed persons under the age of 16.

How are work permits issued? The employer must complete the “Employer Agreement for Minors Aged 14 and 15” stating the type of work and hours the youth will work. Once completed, the parent or guardian signs this form, then the youth takes it to the Workforce Development Center. The youth also must provide at least one of the following as evidence of age: certified copy of a birth certificate; passport; certified copy of baptismal record showing date, place of birth and place of baptism; or a report from a school medical inspector or physician appointed by the local board of education.

What hours can 14- or 15-year-olds work?

  • Between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. during the school year, but outside of school hours.
  • Between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. from June 1 through Labor Day.
  • Federal child labor laws limit the hours that these youths’ can work. During the school year, the limit is 18 hours per week – three hours per day Monday through Friday, outside of school hours; and eight hours on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.

Who needs a certificate of age?

All Iowa youths age 16 and 17. These youths can obtain a certificate of age by appearing in person at the Workforce Development Center with at least one document proving their age. The documents are the same ones as noted for a work permit.

Remember, these laws may differ from state to state.

To learn more
Search the Internet using keywords such as “youth employment laws," “state departments of labor” or even “farm safety”. You’ll probably end up with more options than you need, but check out the different sites. Plus, many of these homepages have links to other pertinent sites.
Also try contacting one or more of the following:

  • Stacy Andersen, AMVC human resources director, (712) 563-2080 or e-mail: amvcman@netins.net
  • Derrick Sleezer, operations manager, Sleezer Fertility Center, (712) 434-5684 or e-mail: sleezerfertilitycenter@hotmail.com
  • Your state Department of Labor.
  • U.S. Department of Labor Web site: www.dol.gov
  • Iowa Child Labor Law, contact Iowa Division of Labor, (515) 281-8493.
  • Federal Child Labor Law, contact the Federal Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division in Des Moines, Iowa, (515) 284-4625.