News

Operators Weigh Recruiting Teen-Agers

6/28/1998 8:00 PM Eastern

It's graduation time again, and 1 million potential
workers have hit the streets.

That figure, according to estimates by the U.S. Bureau of
Labor Statistics, is the segment of the 2.5 million total high school graduates who have
rejected college and who will look for jobs.

But even with unemployment at an all-time low nationwide,
cable operators that say they are desperate for applicants had mixed reactions to
potential employees right out of high school. Some companies are setting up internship and
outreach programs to promote cable as a career path, but more look askance at 18-year-old
applicants.

"Even if they have experience working at
McDonald's or something, they just aren't mature enough. This is a difficult
time, and we don't want to lose out to the competition on customer service,"
said one local-system executive, who did not want to be identified.

But high-school placement-program executives believe that
businesses that ignore secondary students today will lose out long-term. Companies
including Ameritech Corp., Nortel, GTE Corp. and Bell Atlantic Corp. solicit interns
through such programs, and recruiters identify and snatch up tomorrow's
computer-literate "gold-collar" workers.

"Students with potential are identified earlier and
earlier every year. If employers wait until [applicants] are out of high school -- or
worse, college -- they're already spoken for," said Alejandro Tavares, managing
director for Los Angeles-based Inroads Inc.

Inroads is a national career-development and recruitment
program that places high-school and college-aged minority students into internships. It
has 930 corporate partners, including the four companies mentioned previously.

Tavares added that some businesses have suggested moving
their involvement into middle school, so that motivated students can be routed early into
appropriate math or technical classes.

"Intellectual capital for competitive businesses is
very important," Tavares said, adding that he's encountered a blasé attitude by
entertainment businesses as he solicits participants for his program.

They believe that they will always get enough applicants
because of the perceived glamour of anything to do with the entertainment business, he
asserted.

Some cable operators are reaching out, however, noting both
the need for fresh employees and civic responsibility. In some franchises, the outreach
may just be casual.

For instance, Tele-Communications Inc. systems in the
Chicago area cover local high-school football games for local-access programming. Through
that contact, system employees inform coaches that summer positions assisting techs are
available for interested players. Other companies urge employees to have their children
apply for summer jobs.

MediaOne's Los Angeles region has taken a more formal
route. It participates in an internship program that brings aboard potential long-term
employees at one-half the cost of summer temp workers.

The program, School-to-Career, is actually a public-affairs
program of Shell Oil Co., which subsidizes one-half of the minimum-wage cost of the
workers placed with its partner companies. This summer, between 30 and 40 young adults
will work throughout the region in order-entry, data-entry, human-resources and dispatch
departments, according to Perry Parks, regional vice president, public and government
affairs for MediaOne.

MediaOne has participated in the program for five years,
and between 70 and 100 students have become permanent employees, he said. Some of the rest
worked for MediaOne for up to two years, then left for college.

"Good employees are always an issue. We attempt to
provide work opportunities at a basic level," Parks said.

Time Warner Cable of Milwaukee has been especially
aggressive in drafting employees, and it participates in multiple job fairs. Students as
young as 16 are considered for internships, said Deidra Edwards, the system's vice
president of human resources.

"We look at every pool of candidates that we
can," she added.

Time Warner's internship program began June 22. The
applicants work for between six and eight weeks, and they rotate departments three times
during the term of the internship. The department supervisors and human-resources managers
determine the youths' placements.

The company wants participants to get a broad picture of
the cable business, so interns will ride along with techs, accompany door-to-door salesmen
and be assigned to departments with projects that regular employees have been unable to
complete. Further, Edwards will schedule career-oriented speakers for the group and
courses on good workplace habits.

A total of 12 interns per summer will be recruited. Edwards
projected that the interns' wages will be between $6.50 and $7.50 per hour.

Edwards anticipated that the students will ultimately
attend college, "but we'll see if they come back."

Representatives from some of cable's largest companies
indicated that they hope to introduce companywide internship programs soon. Jones
Intercable Inc. has done internships informally for 11 years, and its human-resources
department is at work on a structured program throughout its divisions. The operator has
not yet set a date for launching a program, according to Jim Carlson, vice president of
corporate communications for Jones.

TCI. may also launch an national-internship program, said
spokeswoman LaRae Marsik, possibly with Inroads. TCI has placed Inroads interns at its
corporate office since 1985, according to the company, and it has an executive on the
recruitment program's board of directors. This year, TCI has put nine interns at its
corporate office for the summer -- the bulk in the information-resources department, and
the rest spread among employee relations, the internal-audit division and TCI's
international division. Three of the nine have returned to work at TCI for a second
summer.

TCI has not set a deadline for launching a program.

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