By STEVEN NALLEY
Each year, Express Employment Professionals partners with Aramark food vendors at Mississippi State University to give many high school students their first jobs as hawkers selling concessions in the aisles of Davis Wade Stadium.
Anna Spivey, account executive with Express’s Starkville office, said while anyone can apply for the hawker positions, the program is targeted at young adults 16 and up to give them their first work experience. She said Express will be visiting high schools and talking to principals to get students involved for this season’s jobs.
Spivey said the hawkers will sell include popcorn, soda and ice water, allowing people to buy concessions without leaving their seats and missing the game. Before the football games begin, she said, Express will hold tryouts for the jobs at 4:30 p.m. Aug. 30 and Sept. 1, 6 and 8.
“They will have to carry the tray, which is about 35 pounds, and walk up and down the stairs in the stadium for tryouts,” Spivey said. “If they can do that, then we’re going to test them for math skills, because they have to be able to handle change correctly.”
If applicants pass those two tests, Spivey said, Express will ask applicants situational questions in search of a less tangible deciding factor: personality. She said this will help Express determine who will best serve crowds without testing them on actual crowds.
“We’re looking for outgoing individuals that can look for people in the stands, make sure they’re paying attention to others waving them down to get the drinks and the food,” Spivey said. “If you’re an outgoing individual, then you’re looking around, so that kind of goes together.”
Express’s program is primarily for the football season, Spivey said, but it included some of the baseball season last year, although not as many hawkers were needed. While hawking is hard work, she said, she believes it may also teach students that work can be fun.
“I think a lot of people want to look at work as dreadful, and I think it doesn’t have to be that way,” Spivey said. “It can be somewhere where you go and have a good time and you learn and you meet people. I think that’s really going to be where we’re going to push team camaraderie.”
Josiah Phillips, a home-schooled high school junior and brother to MSU senior football player Jonathan Phillips, won the “Top Seller” award in Express’ MSU hawker program in 2010, and he said he could testify to the fun workers have and the camaraderie they build with each other. He said he even had opportunities to share his Christian faith with his co-workers, and he also learned important social skills making sales to complete strangers.
“It has taught me to be a little more personable that way,” Phillips said. “You have to deal with people.”
Phillips said he is interested in joining the Marines, who, like the hawkers, work with different people every day. And while Express has no drill sergeant, Phillips said hawking is a physical challenge as well.
“There’s a little bit of endurance involved when you’re having to sell drinks in the stands,” Phillips said. “You just have to keep going.”
Spivey said the number of hawkers Express plans to hire this year is up from about 50 last year to 70-80 this year. Also on the rise, she said, is commission.
“You’re going to make your base of minimum wage, but you’re going to get commission off every item you sell,” Spivey said. “Every item you sell, it gives you more incentive to hustle back and sell more. You’ve got to get pumped back up to go back out there, even though it’s hot and people are yelling at you, but I think it’s going to be a good test for a lot of people.”
Spivey said Express encourages students to come back to the hawker program multiple years in a row, and once they want to move on to another job, Express provides references and other career advancement services to those who ask for them. For this reason, Spivey said, she is glad Aramark and MSU are partnering with Express for this program.
“We’re thrilled that they’re letting us help do this, because not only will they have that experience, but they’ll be exposed to different opportunities when football season is over, through our company,” Spivey said. “We keep them in our system. We put a lot into who we hire, and we take good care of our people.”
Headquartered out of Oklahoma City, Express Employment Services provides staffing and human resources services internationally, Spivey said. The Starkville franchise, owned by Scott Dodd, serves a seven-county radius and has been in business for 13 years, she said.
Express works with more than 70 clients each week, Spivey said, reviewing 30-40 applications per day. Their services include temporary contract staffing, temporary-to-permanent evaluation hiring, and headhunter placement, she said, and they work with job seekers from the entry level to the executive level.
“This is a great entry level, but we also place IT and engineers at some of these businesses too,” Spivey said. “So you have a big spectrum of what’s out there with these kinds of opportunities. We always tell people, ‘If you come to us, it’s like going to 70 people in one stop.’”