In today's tight labor market, companies nationwide are scrambling to recruit and retain workers at the entry level. United Parcel Service has created one solution that it sees as promising: Hire college students to move packages part time, and help pay their tuition.
The program, called Earn and Learn, pays students $8.50 per hour to work about 20 hours a week. It also gives them $3,000 annually for tuition and $2,000 in forgivable loans, for a total of up to $23,000.
UPS will pay a portion or all of the loans back, depending on how long the employee stays. More than 12,000 students - or about 4 percent of the company's workforce - have taken advantage of the offer since it started in August 1999.
Earn and Learn has drawn a range of students from vocational schools and two- and four-year colleges in 40 cities, including Atlanta, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, and Philadelphia.
The result: UPS has improved retention rates among those young workers by 30 percent.
The students "graduate from college with little or no debt, they've earned money with full benefits, and they have experience with a Fortune 500 company," says UPS spokeswoman Paula Fulford. "Every company is competing for the same employees. It has become a significant recruiting tool for us."
The shifts are anything but easy. Students sort, load, and unload packages from trailers into delivery trucks at busy transportation hubs.
"My friends thought I wouldn't last," says Kelly Bauer, a student at the University of Missouri in St. Louis. She's worked at UPS for three years while earning a degree in business administration. "At first it was a lot of heavy lifting, but after a while, you get used to it."
Kelly works 22 hours during the week, from about 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., and spends mornings in class. She squeezes in two or three hours of homework at night and in the afternoons.
Despite widespread concern that the shifts could eclipse study time, students say the hours are especially appealing. Like Kelly, most clock in later in the afternoon or at night, after classes. There's some flexibility built in to accommodate students' final-exam schedules.
Many hope the work will lead to full-time jobs. Students who start as loaders can move quickly up to supervisors, drivers, or to the corporate side. "I like the hard, physical work," Kelly says. "I'm happy to be here."
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