Train today's young workers to thrive for tomorrow's job market

For many young job-seekers, there has never been a better time to apply. The U.S. economy is touting strong numbers, and many sectors are revamping their image to attract the next generation of talent. As companies sift through applications and consider who to hire, it is important business owners across industries take the time to train new employees on workplace safety policies and procedures.

Employers need to remember that not only are they bringing in a youth worker into their workplace, this may also be their very first job having never experienced the workforce at all, says Dan Killins, loss control program manager for EMPLOYERS. According to an EMPLOYERS survey, 27% of small business owners didn’t offer workplace safety training to their new student workers, and, among those that did offer training, only 52% say that it is required. This, coupled with a Bureau of Labor Statistics report which found that 12.9 million 16- to 24-year-olds are participating in the labor market, rather than enrolled in school, presents employers with a number of risks and exposures to account for.

Prepare youth workers for these scenarios

Many youths typically enter the workforce for the first time either in the food and beverage industry or the retail industry. While they may receive some formal or informal type of training, there are two areas Killins believes companies need to hone in on: workplace violence and sexual harassment.

Does a youth worker know how to handle an unsatisfied customer who turns violent? Does a youth worker understand what constitutes sexual harassment? Does a youth worker know the protocol for reporting sexual harassment? Scenarios like these must be considered for all workers, but especially when it comes to hiring a youth with little or no experience in the workforce. 

An easy way employers can prepare is to integrate training related to safety and health topics into their operational training. This creates an emphasis on workplace culture for all current and future employees while simultaneously allowing for more time and resources to be invested in other areas of concern.

Create a culture of safety

“The first and most important step is ownership and management buy-in. If employees don’t see a commitment from ownership or from management towards safety initiative and safety as a part of doing their job, it’s not as well absorbed by employees,” says Killins.

The second step concerns employee engagement. How are employees engaged in the safety process on a daily/weekly basis? Are there safety posters hanging in the right places? How are these employees coming into contact with safe work procedures on a regular basis? Employers must consider questions like these in both the short- and long-term. Killins third step is to make sure there is an environment of continuous improvement where employees learn from things that happened in the workplace while the employer also takes the feedback of its employees into account.

On the other end of the spectrum, work-related injuries and illnesses can result in reduced productivity and employee morale, along with out-of-pocket expenses and potentially higher insurance premiums. “Across all industries, and for youth workers between 16-24, the most common areas of incidents are slips, trips and falls, exposures to harmful substances, contact with an object or equipment — getting hit by something or running into something — and overexertion,” says Killins. Companies should identify potential hazards in the workplace, as well as comply with the guidelines set by state and federal agencies.

As the job market constantly changes, employers must work diligently to keep up. As youth workers enter the workforce for the first time, employers should take a step back and remember that for many this may be their first job. How they’re trained, if they receive any, can be the difference between a thriving worker and one who is ill-equipped to handle an exposure-filled scenario. Regardless, these are steps that all businesses can follow to help grow that culture of safety in the workplace.

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