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Young workers search for paying jobs, gain experience

When Hillcrest High School Media Specialist Stephanie
Hickman needed parts of her house retiled earlier this year, she didn’t search
the Yellow Pages or classifieds for an experienced tradesman.

She found one right in her own library, studying for his 11th-grade
history class and chatting with friends.

“I heard T.J. telling one of my assistants about all
the tiling work he had to do this summer, and I was like Whaaat?, ” she
said, recalling the day she met 16-year-old Thomas “T.J.” Taylor.

“I had two bathrooms and a laundry room that were in
desperate need of help.”

Taylor had redone all of the tiling in his parents home and
just completed his first paid project for an uncle when Hickman asked him to
tile the rooms in her 70-year-old Tuscaloosa home.

And although he was busy with schoolwork and his
“real” job at a local Greek restaurant, he said expenses like his new
truck and an obsession with traditional longbow archery mean he’s always eager
to earn extra cash.

“I have some expensive hobbies, and I like having money
in the bank. That’s how this all started,” Taylor now 17 and a senior
said, adding that he and his crew stay busy with the tiling, painting and
carpentry work they’ve found since completing Hickman’s project. “And it’s
pretty good money, especially when you’re 17.”

Taylor who learned his trade from his uncles and grandfather
and later trained some friends so they could work with him said he wants to go
to law school when he graduates from high school.

But he also plans to turn his current work into a
full-fledged business before he graduates from Hillcrest.

If he can manage that, he’d like to see the work grow into a
business that eventually runs itself.

Taylor is not the only Tuscaloosa teen making the most of
summer vacation.

Lacy Duke just graduated from Northridge High School and
baby-sits between her summer classes at Shelton State Community College.

She now has four or five regular customers and sits at least
four days a week, but she said she never planned on becoming a professional
baby sitter. It just happened.

“It just kind of evolved from church,” said the
18-year-old, who began sitting for two little boys when she was 13. “And
now I still sit for those kids and their friends too.”

She’s had “real” jobs since then, but says
baby-sitting is more flexible and pays just as well as any of the other work
she’s done. It’s also much more enjoyable.

“It’s a lot easier than keeping a regular job, and the
kids are a lot more fun than grown-ups,” she said. “So I’ll probably
keep doing it through college, at least.”

Mariah Brown, 16, a junior at Hillcrest High School also
creates her own work. But, like Duke, she says she baby-sits because she loves

She claims she doesn’t share Taylor’s entrepreneurial
dreams, however: She baby-sits just because she loves kids.

But a recent baby-sitting class and years spent honing her
caregiving skills have earned her the trust and regular business needed to
succeed as a childcare provider.

“A lot of people have called me because they’ve heard
I’m good with kids, and now I have about six families that I sit for pretty
regularly,” she said while watching a neighbor’s children one recent
morning. “But usually, I don’t even really charge. I just take whatever
people give me, because it doesn’t even feel like work.”

Mariah’s mother, Carla Brown, said her daughter has never
cared much about money, though her baby-sitting business may help her in the

“She has done some thinking about college, and she’d
like to work with children and the arts,” she said. “So she’s working
toward things like that now.”

Last summer, Mariah walked into her old daycare center and
offered to help out for free. She volunteered at a hospital the summer before
that, her mom said.

Paavo Hanninen, the director of small business development
at the University of Alabama’s
Center for Business and Economic Research, said Mariah’s volunteer work helped
her gain experience, and he believes experience is one of an entrepreneur’s
most valuable assets.

“The average person who starts a small business is in
his upper 20s to mid 30s, so they’ve had a chance to gain experience in their
field,” he said. “And my first point of advice for any entrepreneur,
particularly for young folks, is to find a way to get that experience before they
go out on their own.”

He said he’d advise aspiring business owners to get a paid
job so they can earn money while learning their trade rather than doing unpaid
volunteer work.

But he said young workers are in good shape if they’ve grown
a loyal customer base without having to borrow money.

“You want to have fun doing this,” he said.
“And the surest way to take the fun out of it is to be buried in crushing

Taylor, however,
says he’s not in it for fun, at least not at the moment.

He said he expects to work hard for a while. But he feels
sure he’ll reap the benefits one day soon.

“I want to be successful, but I want to enjoy
life,” he said, explaining his career goals. “So I’d like to get
everything set up now and have it all running itself and other people doing the
work for me by the time I’m 40.”

Information from: The Tuscaloosa News,

– Associated Press

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