When I was 16 years old, I started my first job as a part-time bag sacker at a family grocery store. I knew Bill, the owner of a nearby shoe store whose sons were in my scout troop. I asked Bill if he would recommend me to the grocery manager, Jack. Bill and Jack drank their morning coffee together and were good friends. A week later, I was sacking groceries at Fuedo Foods, a job that is today performed more by customers than employees. I was so happy to be employed that after loading groceries into a customer’s car, I would quickly run back to the store pushing the empty grocery cart to start sacking again.
After sacking groceries for four months, I was promoted to a checker position. I did not scan items then and had to read the sticker prices, then punch the prices into a large cash register with a money drawer that popped open during payment. I had to weigh produce and interpret a table based on the product’s price per pound (memorized weekly). Checks and credit cards were verified by a printed bank book containing all known bad accounts. It was a very manual system that required human processes, not machine.
Within a year, I was promoted to night manager and supervised the evening part-time employees. I sat in the office, cashed checks, and later deposited the checks after closing the store. For a high school student, I was given responsibilities that few teenagers achieve today. I learned so many life skills during my more than two years at Fuedo Foods: relational, managerial, financial, punctuality, honesty, and grit. I learned how to interact with a diverse community and develop trust relationships with customers and suppliers. Fuedo Foods was more than a paycheck; it opened my eyes to the business world and taught me practical skills that still remain.
Robert Fraser, founder and President of Influence, authored Marketplace Christianity (New Grid Publishing, Overland Park, KS, 2006). He is a businessman who understands the importance of life skills. In Chapter 2, titled Ten Kingdom Things Business Can Do, the first attribute he identifies is Life Skills:
“There’s a certain set of abilities people need to succeed in any arena of life. I call them life skills, and they include the ability to work well with people, maintain a good work ethic, solve problems, be diligent, persevere, follow through, resolve conflict, communicate, manage people, manage projects, have confidence, be teachable, motivate others, recruit, plan, make decisions and exercise good judgement. Often, the very best leaders are not the smartest or most talented people, but those with the strongest life skills.” (page 19)
At Fuedo Foods, I had to arrive on-time and ‘punch’ my timecard. Fuedo Foods competed with two other grocery stores, so it had to give exceptional service. We knew our customers and their families by name, stocked the food they liked, and accepted their personal checks. When payday arrived, we cashed their paychecks, and they used this cash to buy their weekly food. I helped customers locate items and refunded their returned glass soda bottles (before plastic bottles and aluminum cans). I inventoried deliveries and painted the butcher paper signs that advertised the weekly specials.
I learned how to lead and supervise other employees, many older than my youthful age. I caught employees stealing goods and performed the difficult task of terminating them for their dishonesty. Jack taught me to balance the cash registers on a manual spreadsheet before the store opened. No other high school student was given these tasks and I am thankful for his mentorship. Sadly, Jack developed a brain tumor and died during my first year in college. His early, tragic death was my first experience dealing with personal grief. But his business skills still live within me and I am honored to have known him.
“Good businesses are life-skills factories. They make their trade in identifying, training, modeling and rewarding life skills.” (page 20) Many of the jobs that were available for high school students during my youth are now, sadly, either automated or performed by adults. Many students try to obtain internships in their respective occupational interests, which I do support, but I believe that basic customer-interfacing business jobs can give youths valuable life skills, no matter what their future careers entail. The Spirit is at work in the marketplace and with a foundation of life skills, Christians can uplift their community towards the new creation. I am thankful to Fuedo Foods, Jack, and Bill for uplifting my life skills and taking a chance with a teenager eager to learn.