Using technology to, like, engage young workers

by Caitlin Nobes16 Apr 2013

Young, casual, retail workers can be some of the hardest to engage. But when they’re your company’s lifeblood it’s vital to find new, forward-thinking ways to connect with them.

For US clothing retailer Aeropostale, whose clientele are mid to late-teens, their young workforce is a resource they are happy to utilise.

“I think it’s a challenge to keep them interested and engaged, but we really enjoy having them on our workforce,” Group VP of store operations Julie Sedlock said.

The company focused on finding busy teens and giving them a few shifts each, instead of demanding they work 20 or more hours a week as some retailers require.

“We hire a lot of them. The kid that’s active in the French Club and also plays Lacrosse, or someone who’s active in their church and also in student government. They’re very busy and the fact that they can spend four to eight hours  – a couple shifts – in our store, it’s great for them and it’s great for us.”

And they’re not just putting in their time – Aeropostale relies on its associates, who they refer to as “role models”, to help them find holiday staff and to give feedback on merchandise and promotional activity.

So how do they keep those 16-year-olds engaged and interested? After all, teens are meant to be flaky and frivolous or sullen and apathetic.

“I do think it’s about communication and making sure they understand the goals of the organization and their place in it,” Sedlock said. “We have something in the back room of each store where each role model puts up a picture of themselves and they talk about what they do in the community, what they want to do when they grow up, what their favourite band is. It’s called the iChat wall and it’s another place for them to find a place within the store.”

Technology is key, as is flexibility. Aeropostale uses mobile technology to ensure their teams can check schedules, update availability and swap shifts all from their smartphones. It’s a long cry from the old days of phoning in to get and give information – something that would be simply impossible at stores like the Time Square space, which has 1,000 employees.

The company uses Dayforce HCM, which includes the Message Centre so when an associate logs in to check hours or updates they get a message from the CEO or another executive talking about events or initiatives, such as wearing red during the holidays.

The employees talk about feeling connected and like part of a team, Sedlock said. “Using all that technology has been a means towards that. It’s using all the different resources or touch points that we have.”

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