If your help-wanted ads aren't turning up the right kind of candidates, maybe you should consider offering an incentive designed to attract them. That was the approach taken by Au Bon Pain Co., which operates 40 upscale fast-food establishments in New England. The company was looking for motivated, ambitious young workers and found that it wasn't enough to advertise competitive wages and benefits. So it came up with a new hook: any employee who works at least 750 hours during a year gets a $1,000 scholarship, up to a total of $6,000. (Those who don't need tuition money get $500 per year in cash.)

According to executive vice-president Len Schlesinger, the program has indeed helped Au Bon Pain attract and keep bright young workers, 50 of whom have qualified for the scholarships and bonuses during the first year. "A lot of parents have encouraged their teenagers to apply, and many kids say they might have left if we didn't have it," he says. "Overall, it's allowed us to distinguish ourselves in a tough market."