TOPS Customer Service & Job Readiness Training Benefit Youth in Developing Job Skills

by Nanette D. Massey

In February and March, two open community meetings were organized by We Are Women Warriors to address concerns about the service at the Tops supermarket at 1275 Jefferson Ave. A host of plans were launched. One was the inception of a customer service and job readiness training.

That training came to fruition on Tuesday, June 26th, and Thursday, the 28th at the Merriweather Library, led by local business consultant Mike Verostko.

Verostko served as VP of the formerly extensive Wilson Farms chain of convenience stores, and spent years facilitating the well-known Dale Carnegie Programs in leadership and effective communications. Cheryl Colbert, Tops’ Director of Customer Experience was on hand, as was Esther Smothers, the Jefferson store public liaison and customer service trainer.

Will Green from Say Yes To Education also partnered with this effort. Tuesday’s session yielded twenty-nine participants, half were high school students looking for their first jobs. Topics covered how to spin limited experience onto a resume, basics of professional dress (such as men wearing belts), simplifying oddball email addresses, and how to shake hands and say one’s name with purpose and distinction. Participants left directed to return Thursday dressed well, and ready to finalize their resumes.

Volunteers came Thursday to assist with mock interviews including Kathy Liou, Human Resources Manager for the entire Syracuse region, and Diandra Zientara, a corporate data analyst who worked in the past as a boots-on-the-ground customer service manager herself. Participants left with a scorecard rating their performance, and tips on which areas need work. Surprisingly, many left with job offers too. Esther Smothers said she intended to call back at least six of those she met, arrangements were made for another to meet with a manager at the Harlem-Kensington store, and the rest were likely to be placed at University Plaza and other stores citywide.

Malachi Gates, 16, appeared for both sessions after seeing the half page ad in the previous week’s Challenger. His work experience up to now included mowing lawns and working construction with his dad. He learned when it comes to dress, “don’t just do the bare minimum, you can always go above and beyond.” The mock interview showed him “I need to improve my eye contact, speak slower, and quit moving around so much. And if you need help on a job, ask for it. It’s always better to ask a supervisor than to do something wrong and regret it.” Crystal Scott, also 16, was looking for a job with Tops to assist her mother at home, who three months ago came through a high risk pregnancy.

The interview and resume building exercise “helped me find out a lot about myself. [The interviewer] pulled stuff out of me I didn’t know I had in me that could go on a resume.” The workshop was funded by a $5,000 grant from Ellicott District City Councilman Darius Pridgen, who said in a phone interview “I’m very pleased to see this whole thing come from being a concern to the community to a benefit for the community.” The managers present said Tops is always hiring. They have particular difficulty consistently filling jobs at their warehouse location on Genesee Street in Lancaster.

Starting pay is $14/hour, averages more than $15 once production bonuses kick in, and frequent overtime is available at over $22/hour. It is only a twenty-minute drive from Buffalo’s East Side, but the closest bus route is not hospitable to the sometimes unpredictable shift endings.

Available women and men with reliable transportation are encouraged to apply. If you weren’t there the 26th or 28th, you have not missed your chance to benefit. A final training was held Wednesday, July 11th, at the Merriweather library from 5 to 7p.m. This last session included some Tops employees, covering customer service details, and to  steer young people on how to be successful once you have landed a job.