workers-IMG_6166Mother Nature played some cruel tricks on us this spring and, for a time, some fellow NJ franchisees and I wanted to drive out to Punxsutawney PA and have a “discussion” with that groundhog Phil. Nevertheless, the warm weather is upon us, schools are letting out for summer and kids are out in force looking for summer jobs.

Conservatively, I will estimate there are 40 job applications and a dozen emails from friends looking to put their kids to work at just one of our shops. Like most franchisees, I’ve been working since junior high school, and I always feel an obligation to hire kids that want summer jobs. It can teach them great lessons and can help us juggle schedules when full-time employees enjoy their summer vacation.

In the past, we’ve had fantastic success with teens on summer break. We’ve been able to develop some teenagers into hardworking, and dedicated employees. Some have stayed with us after graduation from high school as they attend local colleges. But, there are times I question whether these altruistic motives are beneficial to the business, particularly now that new product offerings have become more complicated to prepare and customers appear more crunched for time than ever before.

New employees – regardless of their age and experience – need a significant amount of time that we must invest in training. After all, they represent our brand and are responsible for maintaining proper food and personal procedures. Does it make sense to hand over your million dollar investment to a couple of teenagers on some summer Saturday night? Is it worth it?

There are days I’m on the fence. Still we press on—while keeping a keen eye on both the rules for having young, sometimes inexperienced, workers behind the counter and the potential risks.

For one, there are specific rules governing when and how 16 and 17-year-olds can work. The state enforces the number of hours a teen works per day and the number of hours they work per week. There are also restrictions over when teens can start and end their work day. In New Jersey, some of these restrictions change once the school starts again in the fall.

Perhaps the most challenging rule with which to comply centers on breaks. A minor is required to have a 30 minute, uninterrupted break after he or she has been on the clock for five hours. These breaks have to be logged because the state can make us prove that we gave the break and exactly when the employee took it. New Jersey will fine operators thousands of dollars for violating this rule, which is why we made sure to put a system in place.

The way we see it, teens we hire to work at our shop during the summer should be 100 percent dedicated to the job, but that’s not really the way it is. We recognize that for today’s teens, working the counter at the local Dunkin’ shop is just a job and there are many other important things that will compete for their full attention. Text messages, Facebook posts and unread Tweets can interfere with serving the customer. We have known many high school students whose schedules are so packed with athletics, band practices and other social events that showing up to work on time – if at all – can seem optional. We would never expect a full-time employee, or an entire night crew, to suddenly come down with some rare 24-hour disease so they could go to the Jersey Shore with their friends for the evening. But, that is a risk we run with summer teens.

Then there is the training. My general manager, whose tight grip on the purse strings may have something to do with how his bonus is calculated, would rather not have to pay for a training shift. Sadly, we can’t get away with that, even though it seems some teens have trouble learning the right way to do simple tasks like putting butter on a bagel.

When it comes to training, we’ve noticed that this generation of teens is more comfortable learning by doing than by reading about it in a manual. And, while Dunkin’ Brands’ new OnlineU is a vast improvement over the prior tool, our most successful training regimen is the hands-on version, where a newbie works with a seasoned buddy to learn the proper methods of making an Blue Raspberry Coolatta or a Big N’ Toasted sandwich, or a large coffee with cream and sugar. Training means sometimes making a mistake on a customer’s order and having to throw that error in the trash.

Today’s summer workforce also comes with an appendage: their mobile phone. Unlike regular employees who understand that phones should be put away for their shift, teens can feel like you’ve kidnapped their puppy when you tell them to leave their phones in the back room. And, because this generation prefers to communicate via text message, it is sometimes necessary to explain to them the importance of eye contact and face-to-face communication—especially when it comes to dealing with customers.

Of course, teens tend to perk up when their friends and family come into the shop. Many want to show their parents or older siblings how well they perform their new job. Others think it’s perfectly okay to give away drinks, sandwiches and baked goods to their visitors. As we all know, these unauthorized discounts can be costly, not only in terms of revenue, but also in terms of the time needed to track down orders that were improperly entered into the POS system.

But, it’s not all messes and mistakes. Over the years, we have had several summer workers who have become outstanding employees, who others truly enjoy working with, and who effectively serve our customers.

We have one employee who has been working for us since he was 16. He has moved up the ladder from a part-time crew member to an assistant manager covering evenings and weekends. This fall he will begin college and expects to eventually be the first college graduate in his family.

Another employee, who has already earned his college degree, is planning on returning to school part-time to get another degree. He has been such a great worker that we are going to elevate him to the role of manager for one of our new stores when it opens in 4Q14. We are committed to working around his class schedule to make sure the shifts we need filled fit his timeframe.

Because we are small business owners, we are often forced to wear multiple hats: CEO, Sales Manager and HR Director. That can mean filling the role of parent or advisor to a teenage employee. While there can be personal and professional rewards for the operator who hires teenagers to fill summer shifts, it’s not right for all franchisees. In our experience, if you’re going to take the chance and hire a teenager to work the counter, you’ve got to expect some miscommunication, missteps and mistakes. If that doesn’t sound acceptable to you, then just say no when those applications cross your desk.