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

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