Hire a Kid, Change a Life

  • By: Scott Miller, Fresno Chamber of Commerce Board Chairman and Owner of Gazebo Gardens

With the Mayor’s Youth Job Fair coming up, there has been a lot of talk around the Chamber regarding hiring teens and what it means for the communal economy when our youth get into the working world early.  On the previous page, Al Smith’s piece mentions the value of a solid work ethic and how we are not doing our kids or ourselves any favors when we shield them from working in their teens. As I read his article, I found myself whole-heartedly agreeing that when young people get a jump-start, it means a better workforce, and that is helpful to the community both economically and socially.

While I considered how important our workforce is, it got me thinking about something equally important to our economy: entrepreneurs.   I believe that when we get our kids out there working and learning in a real-world setting, not only are we cultivating well prepared workers, hiring kids early can mean we can spark ideas and initiative in our next generation of entrepreneurs.

I was not raised by entrepreneurs and I don’t remember even being exposed to many business owners as a child.  I’m not complaining – I had a great childhood, I just grew up in a family where everyone went to jobs at companies owned by other people.  As a result, my goal as a young person was to grow up and get a really good job, which I’d say is pretty normal, particularly in our area.  Given my background, I can’t help but feel that the luckiest break I ever received was getting a job working for an entrepreneur at a young age.

At 15, I got a gig working nights and weekends at a “Choose- and-Cut” Christmas Tree Farm owned by Bakman Enterprises.  Three words: Roughest. Job. Ever.  My position was below the bottom of the organizational chart with highlights that included being cold, wet, and dirty while on the job.  And to boot, I found out people really don’t tip the hard – working, minimum-wage earning tree boy like they should.

Anyhow, the conditions were secondary to the fact that I was there to earn a little money, to work and to earn my stripes.  And I did – well enough to be offered a summer job doing other things for the company, which was comprised of a number of small businesses, including a water utility, an insurance agency, and various commercial properties.  Over the next few years, I continued to work for Bakman Enterprises after school and during the summers.

I remember being fascinated as I learned the complexities of how the business worked, how the pieces fit together (), and how, according to legend, the company’s founder, Dick Bakman had started the business with profits from selling goats from his family’s ranch for profit as a child.  I later found out this story was a bit of an exaggeration, but the basis still blew me away.  It was honestly the first time I was ever exposed to a story of someone building a business on a shoestring.  It seemed to me at the time that Mr. Bakman, then in his seventies, started whole businesses with less effort than it takes most people to buy a car.

One of the many duties I had as a kid with Bakman Enterprises was on (big surprise here) their landscape crew.  One early morning, as I was raking leaves at Mr. Bakman’s home, he walked out his front door to pick up the newspaper, looked over at me and said “You know Scott, you’re not bad at this landscape thing.  You should stick with it; you’ll make a lot of money”.  That was good enough for me.  The smartest, most successful person I had ever met was suggesting that I too could be successful.  If he thought I could do it, then it must be true!   This small compliment cost Mr. Bakman nothing more than a minute of his time and pointed me in the direction I’m still going today.

Not long after that, I talked Dick’s son, Tim (who is the company’s current CEO, successful in his own rite) into helping me start a landscape company.  I have since been involved with starting several businesses and hope to start a few more before I’m done.   I know now that starting a business is a little harder than buying a car, but I can do it and know it’s worth every bit of sweat and frustration I put into the process.  I’ll never stop being grateful for that early break, and for the lessons I learned from my first job.

So what is the point behind this heart-warming walk down memory lane?

Being a business owner affords us the opportunity to do more than just make a living: It’s a chance to show that in America, anyone can be a success doing something they love. In today’s job market, it’s easy to look past teens when we’re hiring.  I get it – lots of qualified adults are looking for work.  But every once in a while, give a kid a chance, too.  Giving someone their first job can mean a lot.  After all, it won’t cost you much, and you could change a life.


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