Member Profile: John Hogan, TeenForce


San Jose, California
Year program began: 2010
Jobseekers placed last year: 120


TeenForce is an alternative staffing agency that places teenagers and young adults into temporary and part-time job assignments as a way to develop their work and life skills, build their self-confidence and fuel their aspirations.

John Hogan established the Silicon Valley firm two years ago and last year, launched a jobs program for teens in foster care. As the business gains momentum, TeenForce anticipates a busy summer ahead. We spoke with founder and CEO John Hogan to learn more.

How did you get into the alternative staffing business?
I retired from a career in the mortgage industry in 2007 and wanted to open a business that would create positive work opportunities for youth. My original ideas were limited in the number of jobs they could generate, though, and I sought to have a bigger impact. I began to wonder, “what if I could get every employer in town to hire one kid?” This led me to think about staffing and then I discovered the alternative staffing model. As an MBA student at Santa Clara University, I worked with several others to develop a business plan for TeenForce and launched the business in 2010.

What population does TeenForce work with?
We’re open to all youth aged 14 to 20, and some of our youth in foster care are slightly older. When foster youth turn 18, they leave care and are expected to be self-sufficient, although the system fails to prepare them for this. Our objective this year is for at least a third of our billed hours to be fulfilled by current and former foster youth.

How many jobseekers does TeenForce serve annually?
This year we will place about 140 in employment and provide skills training for another 30 to 40.

How are participants referred to your staffing service?
We network with high schools including Career and Technical Education programs that seek work experience opportunities for students, and we network with foster care agencies.

What types of support services have you found to be most critical to their workplace success?
Our teens require lots of coaching about communication, specifically the timely return of calls and emails, and we provide workplace etiquette and safety training to all of our candidates. Many youth have trouble understanding that work is a priority and a commitment.  We try to drive home our motto, which is DWYSYWD (do what you say you will do).  Our employers don’t expect youth to have a lot of skills, but they do expect them to follow through on commitments.

What types of employers do you serve?
Our clients include a variety of retail, marketing and tech businesses, as well as a car dealership, dental practice and large retirement community. Many of our jobs involve office/clerical support, customer service, quality assurance and food service. Initially, our customers were small, local firms that are hard to scale up. Our current focus is on adding larger employers to the mix.

What marketing methods or messages have you found to be most effective in attracting new customers?
Our message to smaller business owners relates to the convenience and efficiency we offer to free up their valuable time. In approaching larger employers, our message is “we can help you with social responsibility.” We are asking them to let us fill a portion of their job openings with qualified, motivated youth that wouldn’t get through their current hiring process, due to low self-esteem or poor presentation skills.

This year, we’re also a business partner in the White House Summer Jobs+ initiative, which has given us a forum and context to talk about youth employment and be more visible in the community. We’ve had a positive response from several technology firms after a recent editorial in the local paper and radio interview, for example. We expect 2012 to be a good year.

What has been an innovative solution to a customer problem?
Last year we began working for a four-person mobile technology start-up that puts magazines on iPhones and needed help with quality assurance. We supplied them with five youth and the customer was thrilled to get capable labor at an affordable cost while the kids thought they had the coolest job ever. We’re now up to nine temps there, including several that work remotely from college.

What are the biggest challenges of operating a youth-focused staffing service?
Scheduling and transportation are tough. During the school year, kids can only work in the afternoons so we’re essentially limited to a 2 to 6 pm time frame during the week. We’re rarely able to fill full-time jobs.

What about TeenForce makes you most proud?
I’m proud that we’re creating new opportunities for kids. Everyone needs help with their first job, and the vast majority of our customers have not hired teens before. We are expanding the pool of jobs available to youth, not merely exchanging direct hires with a temp agency.  With the staffing model, we’re opening new doors for youth and delivering value to our customers, too.

What are TeenForce’s main goals for the future?
Our goal is to become self-sufficient and we are working hard to double our sales volume and achieve break-even. Having a robust customer portfolio is also the best way to help kids with the most barriers and we are targeting larger customers, some of which operate in multiple sites. These accounts will help us get to scale and position us to serve more foster youth. Once we become self-sustaining or close to it, our goal is to replicate the model. My vision is to initially expand to four more communities to prove the concept in markets with different demographics and socio-economic conditions. Ultimately I see TeenForce growing to be a nationally branded program.

Please, briefly share a success story about one of your workers.
I’m especially proud of one of our foster youth, a girl we placed in a food service position last summer at a retirement community. The company hired her and has promoted her twice. She now works in patient care and is enrolled in a nursing program at the junior college. The chance to work can be transformational.

What advice would you offer to someone considering alternative staffing as a strategy in their community?
I firmly believe in this workforce development model because it has the potential to be self sustaining.  Our workers have value and both they and we deserve to be compensated for our services.  If our workers don’t perform, the organization won’t succeed, which is appropriate.  Alternative staffing is no different than any other business, though. Success is harder and takes longer than you ever expect, so you need to be committed for the long haul.

To learn more, please visit TeenForce on the web.

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