Peter Drucker once said, "If you want something new, you need to stop doing something old."

In my Inc. column of April 9 ["The Return of Animal Spirits and Recruiting New Employees"] I spoke of the growing conundrum of labor shortages caused by the return of "animal spirits" in our small business economy.  To put it simply we need more workers in general and we need more skilled workers in particular.  Our extant HR solutions and resources are not solving the problem.

An article by Jennifer Levitz and Eric Morath in The Wall Street Journal on April 16, 2018 avers the following:  "After the longest stretch of continuous job creation on record--more than seven years--the U.S. faces its most severe worker shortage in the past two decades.  Employers, from General Electric Co. and Michelin North America Inc. to a Wisconsin nursing home and an Ohio turbine parts manufacturers, are expanding their hunt [for employees] to the labor market's youngest echelon."

Abigail Wozniak, a University of Notre Dame labor economist, notes that our growing employment crisis is increasingly forcing workers who have  been out of the labor force to get a second look.  One of these unused subsets of employees are teenagers.

I have written extensively about making greater use of older workers.  ["The Ultra-Productive Workers You're Probably Overlooking"]  I would say the same about our youngest workers (teenagers), but for very different reasons. 

There are at least two reasons for using these younger workers that come quickly to my mind.  One is simply that they are cheaper.  Teenagers pay is half that of adults--and mostly without perks like health-care benefits or retirement contributions.  But, more importantly, teens have better computer competency.  It is as natural to them as breathing air and drinking water.  Dr. Wozniak states simply, "[Teenagers] are not all your typical low-skill worker."

The WSJ reports the 12-month average unemployment rate for teens is at the lowest year-round average since 2001.  Starbucks Senior Vice President John Kelley reports hiring 50,000 workers between 16 and 24 in the past three years.  He finds that these youth stayed with their jobs at similar or better rates than older hires, easing high turnover, lowering training costs, and improving customer service.

The share of teens working in health services more than doubled in the past 20 years, as has the number of teens working in computer and data processing.

This potential treasure trove of teen employees is no longer a secret.  Again, the WSJ reports that companies are going after teenagers more and more aggressively.  For example, there was a high-school machine-skills competition in Cincinnati in January.  27 companies were present to search for talent, about double the number from last year.  Organizer David Fox described the heightened level of interest as "crazy."

Even the government is becoming aware of the importance of the teen labor pool.  Note a U.S. House bill filed in March which would amend regulations that prevent commercial truck drivers under age 21 from crossing state lines.  U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D., Minnesota) is exploring ways to lower the age limit to operate heavy machinery to 17 from 18 for high-schoolers in technical-training programs. 

Small business persons may well find that reaching out to high schools open new vistas of employee riches--and at affordable prices.

Certainly non-traditional pools of talent will need to be accessed as a partial solution to our growing employment conundrum.  For instance, according to human resources site HR Dive, Amazon recently held a jobs fair to fill 50,000 full and part-time jobs, primarily in its warehouses.  Teen and high school workers were lured by Amazon's attractive salaries and benefits package, including reimbursement of 95% of college tuition costs for all workers.  "A lot of automation today requires human intervention," said Andrew Chamberlain, chief economist for job review site Glassdoor.  "These jobs don't necessarily require a college degree, but can be decent paying jobs."  

Automation simply cannot keep pace with the economy's growing demand.  We still need creative human solutions.  As John F. Kennedy said, "Man is still the most extraordinary computer of all."  Thank you, John.