Saturday, August 18 , 2018, 12:14 am | Fair 69º


Paul Burri: Students Have a Lot to Learn About How to Earn a Living

Covering the ABCs of working in the real world with a group of inexperienced high-schoolers

I had the privilege of addressing a group of high school students recently. The general idea was for someone like myself with considerable work experience to explain to the students what it is like in the real world of earning a living. I was surprised by what I saw. Some things were expected; some were a surprise.

I wasn’t surprised that the students weren’t eagerly waiting to hear my words of wisdom. Rather, they seemed much more interested in ogling the opposite sex, talking to each other, fooling around and in general showing a serious lack of interest in what some old guy was there to talk to them about. OK, I had been warned by my two adult children who are both high school teachers in the San Fernando Valley. And actually, it wasn’t nearly as bad as what they described was happening there.

One of the things I intended to talk to these local students about was, “What does your boss expect from you as an employee?”

So my first question was for a show of hands on how many of them had ever worked for a company like McDonald’s, Taco Bell or El Pollo Loco. Out of a class of about 35 seniors, not one of them had ever worked for any of those places. I was surprised. So I asked how many of them had ever worked at any job. Again, not one of them had ever worked at any job — anywhere. At least they weren’t admitting it.

If my calculations are correct, the average high school senior is 16 to 17 years old — perhaps a few are as old as 18. For someone like me who had his first job when he was 12 years old, the idea that none of these kids had ever had a job was a revelation.

OK, OK, poor me that I had to go to work when I was 12 years old. No, it wasn’t that I had to work then. I worked then because I wanted enough money for a Boy Scout uniform and my parents couldn’t afford the $13 that it cost. (I’ll save you some time speculating on what year that was. It was around 1941. And let me tell you something else. To this day, I’m glad my parents couldn’t afford it. I learned early the value of money and what it takes to get it. It’s called work.)

So here I am talking to 16- and 17-year-olds who have never had a job in their lives. And I’m supposed to be teaching something about work ethics. It felt like teaching a goat to gargle.

So I asked them the simple question, “Why would a company like McDonald’s hire you?” Out of a class of 35 students, only two were brave enough to offer an answer, and I found the answers very interesting. One young man said, “Because they only have to pay you minimum wage.” (Note: He had never worked but he knew about minimum wages.) The second student said, “Because it’s easy to train you.”

Also note that neither of them really knew why the company hires employees. They only knew that the company didn’t pay much and that they were easy to train — and never connected the two answers.

So I told them why a company — whether it’s McDonald’s or Microsoft — hires employees. It’s to make money off of their labor.

This was a revelation to them, and they appeared to be offended and resentful about that. So I explained as simply as I could how much money it takes to open a McDonald’s restaurant. (They won’t even start talking to you unless you have $250,000 cash available. When you finally open the doors, you probably will have invested more than $500,000.) Then I explained that if I had $500,000, I could easily invest it at about 5 percent interest and earn $25,000 a year doing nothing.

So why would I invest my money in a McDonald’s and have all the headaches involved with hiring employees and managing it? I’d do it only if I expected to make more than the 5 percent I would earn otherwise.

And that, folks, means that I have to earn money off of every one of my employees. Sorry if that offends you.

— Paul Burri is an entrepreneur, inventor, columnist, engineer and iconoclast. He is not in the advertising business, but he is a small-business counselor with the Santa Barbara chapter of Counselors to America’s Small Business-SCORE. The opinions and comments in this column are his alone and do not represent the opinions or policies of any outside organization. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Click here for previous Paul Burri columns. Follow Paul Burri on Twitter: @BronxPaul

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through Stripe below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Enter your email
Select your membership level

Payment Information

You are purchasing:

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >