by Jacleen Charbonneau
For students, landing a job can be a difficult task with today's competitive job market. Fortunately, compared to some large corporations that require online application processes, most local businesses attend to students on a very personable level. With a plethora of local businesses in the Blackstone Valley, students are valued and viewed as positive aspects to companies.
There would not be summer jobs without seasonal businesses. West End Creamery in Whitinsville is famous for its local ice cream in 65 flavors. The family-oriented business even offers mini golf and farm-related attractions. Owners Greg and Rebecca VandenAkker and Director of Development Owen Cooper help student employees gain rich experience in hospitality services, a key skill set for future endeavors. "Customer service is important. Just being able to respond to someone...and guide them to an order is something very useful," says Cooper.
"Teamwork is also a big one. Especially on a busy day, having the team be able to find synergy and work together is critical." Besides serving the community's families, hiring such a diverse set of students allows the student community to come together as a whole. "We've got team members coming from basically every major school in the area...They're able to build relationships with people from other schools," observes Cooper.
Southwick's Zoo in Mendon is a Blackstone Valley attraction that brings smiles to 400,000 visitors during the season. Focusing on entertainment, education, conversation, and research, the zoo also helps the economy, offering jobs to students who need experience. "It's entry level, so students are particularly qualified. I've had a lot of kids say how much they appreciated having their first job here because they learned so much," says zoo executive Betsey Brewer. Although the full-time adult staff cater to the animals' needs, students are assigned jobs in other areas, such as the concession stands and gift shops. "It teaches them responsibility, [and] it also teaches them customer service and working with their coworkers," says Brewer. A number of student workers even became moved to seek animal-focused careers, many going to college as biology majors. Brewer has has also taken interns from around the world and provided housing, impacting students beyond the local community.
Aside from seasonally-festive businesses, other jobs that would appear to only hire full-time employees are also giving students a chance to shine. TLC Pet Haven in Sutton offers pet grooming, daycare, and boarding. In need of many employees to attend to cats and dogs, owner Denise Jones hires students, some starting at age 14, to care for furry friends while their owners are on leave. The positive atmosphere in this establishment has even moved student employees to attend college for relevant majors, like veterinary technology. Some former student employees, now adults, just could not leave: "I have one teacher who has worked here since she was 14. She comes during the summer and supervises my kennel," mentions Jones. Keeping the dogs in properly-maintained spaces, both inside and outside, students gain experience and responsibility by cleaning up after the animals and assisting supervisors, who deal with tasks of higher responsibility.
Varky's Cleaners in Whitinsville has taught students a great deal of customer service skills, as well. Although unable to take part in the business's services, including full-service dry cleaning of garments and shoe repair with a quick turnaround, students who work with owner and President Steve Hebert attend the front counter. "They bag the clothes, check them in, wait on the customers, [and] give them their orders," says Hebert. Such customer service and math skills are vital for a successful future, possibly setting a ground for business owning or retail jobs in the future. "They're all in business schools and engineering... [One student] was in a Disney internship for a retail program," says Hebert. "I've seen changes in all of them."
A number of local businesses seek students from technical schools. 146 Supply Center, Inc. in Millbury offers a plethora of supplies from hand-held products to John Deere tractors. As an official John Deere dealer, students from technical schools, particularly Bay Path Regional Technical High School and Blackstone Valley Regional Vocational Technical High School, are taken on as employees to gain more hands-on experience in the service department. Bay Path students' jobs are coordinated with the school, "work[ing] on everything from mowers to tractors to cutting systems to chainsaws," says manager Brian Boria. The supply store also supports continuing education, sponsoring one student to further his education at a school in Cobleskill, New York, who now works in the field. Offering merchandise set-up, servicing, and both parts and sales departments, students gain experience working in the majority of 146 Supply Center, which is an education in itself.
Lampin Corporation, which recently received a Workforce Training Fund grant, also values the student community. Based out of Uxbridge, the company provides machining services to OEMs and sells equipment to a variety of markets, two including the medical field and robotics. William DiBenedetto, the company's president, offers students positions that involve learning the basics of manufacturing, including customer order placement. Later on, students are able to assemble and finish manufactured parts. "The idea behind the program is, we take in students who...have done something in school that has focused on innovative ideas, where they use their mind and their hands to make something. We try to help further that innovation," says DiBenedetto.
DiBenedetto has a passion for students learning the field, stressing manufacturing's large place in society: "[Manufacturing] is the basis for economic history in the Blackstone Valley. It was the birthplace of industrialization. What exposure to Lampin does to the high school students is it teaches them how products are made and how they're manufactured in high volume. That's really important to the economy of the United States."
Small businesses in the Blackstone Valley enrich the community by hiring students during summer months. Not only does it offer hands-on training to students interested in a particular field, but it provides further education for successful futures.