You wouldn’t think you’d have to ask a prospective employee to turn off the cellphone during a job interview, but local employers say many job seekers have to be told.
It’s not just phone manners, said Jim Bennett of the Hampton Affiliates mill in Warrenton. He wears many hats at the mill, including hiring.
Some job seekers dress inappropriately, he said. A ratty T-shirt with inappropriate logos or wording works against the applicant, he said.
Some don’t present themselves well during the interview, he said.
When asked, “Why do you want this job, they say, ‘My mom told me I had to have a job, or my girlfriend told me to get a job,’” he said.
“If they could have any motivation — ‘I need to support my family’ or even ‘To make money to buy a car,’ something,” Bennett said.
When the mill is hiring he’s looking for people with a good work ethic. That means showing up on time and being ready to work, nights and weekends included.
Workers also must pass a drug screen.
Finding workers who fit the bill can be an issue despite Hampton’s family-wage jobs and full benefits.
High schools do a good job prepping students for college, but not for getting a job, Bennett said. He points out that even college students need to find a job. They need to know how to fill out a job application, present themselves at an interview and even balance a checkbook, he said.
It’s not just the mill setting where the problem appears.
Beth Hall, owner of Angelina’s Pizzeria & Cafe in Seaside for the past three and a half years, echoes Bennett’s comments. Some of her applicants have displayed problems with even basic job-search skills.
“Truthfully, most, I wouldn’t even want to interview them,” she said. “They’re not dressed appropriately; they’re not washed half the time.”
She’s had better luck hiring employees with referrals from her six employees.
High schools, Clatsop Community College and Job Corps at Tongue Point say they emphasize soft skills in their classes. In addition, high school senior projects require students to go out into the community and interact with the public, giving more opportunities to use those skills.
Sheila Roley, principal at Seaside High School, said some soft skills such as cellphone courtesy, communication management, teamwork and being on time and ready to work, are classroom issues. Teachers hold students accountable for them every day, she said.
In addition, Seaside’s woodshop class participates in Hampton’s mock interviews.
Bennett and others from the mill come to the school and conduct mock interviews with students. The school has participated for the past few years.
“It was very enlightening to us,” Roley said. The students were nervous about the process even though they knew it was just pretend.
There’s no teacher close by; students are on their own.
“It takes students out of their comfort zone,” Roley said.
For some, it’s their first taste of what it’s like getting a job.
They have to offer a firm handshake and make eye contact, Roley said. They have to be on time and dress appropriately.
Despite these programs, Roley’s heard informally from business leaders and parents that students aren’t prepared when they look for work. She’s not alone.
Lindy O’Bryan teaches business classes and Freshman Transitions at Astoria High School.
“We’re hearing the same things from people that are out in the field doing the hiring that they do have people who are applying for jobs that don’t quite have it,” she said.
O’Bryan worked for “the phone company” for 10 years before becoming a teacher. There were strict expectations, she said, expectations she shares with her students.
“I try to bring that and bring practical descriptions for the kids about what to expect in the workforce,” she said. “So ... I’ll talk to them about being tardy, ‘You know if you’re tardy more than once or twice you might be looking for a new job.’ So I try to emphasize those things in all those classes.”
The Freshman Transition class includes a section on getting a job. Students prepare a letter of application and a resume. Then students pair off for mock interviews in front of the class.
“They dress as businesslike as they can — no expectation that they go buy new clothes, just look in their closet and do the best they can … — they do the mock interviews in front of the class and I give feedback right there so all the kids can learn by what went really good and what might want to work on,” O’Bryan said.
Nobody fails if they try.
So where is the disconnect between the skills taught in the classroom and using those skills in the HR office?
Hampton’s mock interviews are a good start, school administrators say, but they reach a small number of students.
Seaside’s Roley said it would be great to have more business leaders come into the schools to talk to students. It gives the skills taught in the classroom more emphasis.
“Kids are accustomed to us — Do your homework, don’t run in the hall,” she said. “To have new voices come in and talk them about what’s needed in the workplace is more authentic.”
Job Corps has business and industry representatives on the Tongue Point campus often, said Tita Montero, business and community liaison.
Visitors are asked to complete a Professional Trade Assessment, she said.
“One of those things we always ask is ‘What are the three top things you want job applicants to know when they come in?’” she said. “Without fail the soft skills are up in the top three from everybody.”
Job Corps focuses on soft skills from the beginning, she said. Students are evaluated every 60 days on all their skills, including soft skills. Instructors are always watching to see how they practice those skills, Montero said. When they graduate, they understand their importance, she added.
Each student’s training achievement record lists skills they need to graduate.
“It can be as specific as how to solder with a specific bit or how to poach an egg,” she said. “Or it can be a soft skill such as how to be on time or how to greet a customer.”
Kristen Wilkin wrote her first resume in junior high school as a student in Warrenton. Resumes, job interviews and soft skills were just part of the curriculum in the 1980s, she said.
“I was interviewed by then Warrenton City Manager Gil Gramson,” she adds.
She’s the dean of workforce education at Clatsop Community College now, and she’s noticed the slide in soft skills.
“I come across some great students who have great handshakes and great students who have soft skills,” she said. “It’s just not at the extent it was.”
The college offers career planning courses to address soft skills issues.
Bennett hopes the workforce will take soft skills lessons to heart. He sometimes has to pull workers from out of the area to fill job positions a the Warrenton mill.
He said the mill may take 50 applications for two jobs. Of those, he’ll narrow the list to 12 and some won’t return his call, some will already have a job and half won’t make it through the 90-day probation period.
Issues that can come up include cellphone use on the job and failure to wear a hardhat while on the site.
In recent years Bennett found a worker walking across the site without a hardhat and using his phone. His response?
“I’m not on the clock.”