This is part of the Ready NWI and First Job series — an initiative of the Youth Employment Council of the Northwest Indiana Workforce Board. The series reviews the story behind some of Region leaders’ and residents’ first jobs.
Mike Baird is a retired regional president of Northwest Indiana BMO Harris Bank.
Did you work as a teen?
I mowed lawns as a 12-year-old, but my first job as a teen was at the Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant in Valparaiso. I worked five days a week after school frying chicken for the dinner hour and then all day on Sunday for a total of 20 hours.
Did you like the work?
I loved it. It was very important to arrive on time because I was responsible for cooking all of the chicken for the peak dinner hour each night. Frying the chicken followed a very rigid recipe, and it had to be completed on a tight schedule. So it was critical that I followed directions and carefully managed my time.
How much did you earn, and what did you do with your earnings?
I believe I earned the minimum wage at that time of $1.25 per hour (1965). I saved some money to buy a Gibson electric guitar and amplifier so I could play in a band. I also used my earnings to pay for dates and put gas in my Dad’s car when I used it.
What was the least favorite aspect of your job?
Getting splattered with hot grease. My mother didn’t think that was good for me.
Do you remember your co-workers?
My co-workers were a great group of people. One of my favorites was Bob Taylor. Many years later, Bob and I had the privilege of serving together on the Valparaiso City Council.
Did you get into trouble or make any serious mistakes on the job?
Nothing serious. However, I had a habit of singing while I worked. Every once in awhile, Chuck Wheeler, the owner, would drop by for a visit. Several times, he would walk up to me and tap me on the shoulder. With a smile and in a friendly tone of voice, he told me that he enjoyed my singing but maybe the customers didn’t. I knew that meant to stop singing. A few years later, I was a young banker at a large Chicago bank and still had the singing habit. One afternoon, one of the senior officers was meeting nearby with a customer. He came to my desk and diplomatically asked me if his conversation with a customer was bothering my singing. It wasn’t, I laughed to myself, but I got the message.
So the moral to your singing is….?
Be happy in your work! Singing was my way of expressing a positive attitude in my job.
What advice do you have for a young person about to begin his/her first job?
There are several soft skills that every employee needs to demonstrate, but perhaps the most important are being punctual and dependable, and to listen and follow directions.
What advice do you have for employers who hire youth?
In addition to providing a paycheck, try to be a good mentor. And never underestimate the tremendous opportunity you have given a young person to develop good work habits they will retain for the rest of their lives.