Let me tell you about a couple of kids I know. Warning! What I'm about to share will SHOCK you.

Kids today. What image pops into your head? Multi-colored hair? Multiple piercings? Pants too low and tops too little?

What about hiring a teenager? Are you comfortable with the work ethic of today's teens? Or are you thinking, "Surly attitudes. Lazy. Problems with authority?" Perhaps you are thinking, "When I was a kid I knew how to WORK. Kids today...fuggedaboutit."

Are you afraid that kids today are just not the kind of workers that you need to grow your business? This thought is particularly distressing when the industry experiences a skilled labor shortage. Well, let me tell you about a couple of kids I know. Warning! What I'm about to share will SHOCK you.

DECA Champion Eric Smith

When he was 12 years old, Eric started working for his dad Tom in the family plumbing company. Early on, he was hooked on the technical work.

"I was like Biff on Sesame Street. I loved the work and the tools. And I loved working with my dad."

Eric's interest in the business expanded when he took a course on Entrepreneurship at Arrowhead High School in Heartland, Wis., in his junior year. His teacher, Steven Melzer, encouraged him to join DECA, an association of marketing students.

"DECA stands for Distributive Education Clubs of America," Eric explained. Apparently, the word "distributive" is an old-fashioned word for marketing. Eric told me that he was not a great student. His grades were just OK and tests were particularly challenging for him. But when he got involved with DECA, he discovered a wellspring of talent he didn't know he had.

"DECA club members compete in a variety of marketing, sales and entrepreneurship events. Each event is a combination of a written plan and an oral presentation, or role play. I chose an entrepreneurial event, and entered the DECA district competition with a business plan I wrote for our company, Austin Plumbing & Heating. I was pretty pleased when I did well at districts and moved on to the state competition."

The competition was held at the Lake Geneva Grand Resort, a four star hotel. No Holiday Inns for these kids! They dress in business attire (suits, ties for the gentlemen) at all times during the competition. The event requires a 10-minute presentation of the business plan. The judges also consider the written plan in the overall score.

"It's like pitching your business idea to a panel of venture capitalists," Eric offered by way of explanation. (I didn't know what a venture capitalist was until I was 38 years old!)

He was nervous! His confidence was low, and he expected to get blown away by the other competitors. Still he was proud of himself after he made his presentation. "When the names were posted on the ‘finalists' board, I couldn't believe it...I made it to the final round of competition as a top-ten finisher. I hurried to the next room of stone-faced judges, and did the role-play presentation again."

That evening, in an elegantly decorated ballroom, all the students, teachers and judges gathered for the awards ceremony. The presentation of awards was formal and very dramatic. "The awards were given out for the top four finishers. As they called out the fourth, third and second places, I was disappointed when I didn't hear my name. I was hoping to place, having come so far already.

"Then, they announced the first place winner...and called my name!"

Eric won the Wisconsin State DECA competition! And fell head over heels in love with the business game. "I was so successful my first time out, I realized I had a talent for this. Though the written part of the competition was a struggle for me, I loved the role-play section. Presenting is a rush!"

Eric went on to the national competition, in Louisville, Ky. The contestants went to the Kentucky Derby and stayed at another top-notch hotel. They really lavish attention on these kids. First class all the way. Eric didn't place, but he had a blast. He met scores of smart, ambitious kids. And got a fix on the next level of competition.

"I set a goal. I was going to nationals the next year."

Senior year, Eric placed second in the state competition. He was off to nationals! This year, however, they had expanded the competition and invited students from other countries. The International DECA event was held in Anaheim, Calif.

"Thirteen thousand students attended this competition. It is really a best of the best event."

In his event, Eric made the cut and was announced as one of 16 finalists out of more than 200 entrants. "Then, in front of the huge crowd at the awards banquet, Eric was announced as one of the top-ten finishers.

"I didn't win, but I was very pleased with my placement in the top ten."

I asked Eric if he had any idea what kept him out of the first place slot. Were the other business plans better than his?

"You know, the judges were concerned about my prices. In my business plan, I explained why the plumbing company would not be the lowest priced service provider in the market, and I think the judges had a hard time with that. The winning business plans were companies who aimed to position themselves in the market with low prices."

Well, that doesn't surprise me!

And, from his real world experience in the family business, Eric is totally clear on the necessity of charging more than the going rate, regardless of whether or not the judges agree with him. (Atta boy, Eric!)

Still, the experience was wonderfully positive for Eric, Mr. Melzer and the rest of the Arrowhead DECA team. They were recognized as the DECA chapter of the year because they had so many high-placing members.

This summer, Eric is working with his dad and his uncle at Austin Plumbing & Heating. He intends to implement the award winning ideas of his business plan at the company. He wants to grow the business. And he wants a business of his own someday.

"After we graduated, a lot of my friends got scared. They don't know what they want to do. I'm not scared-I'm excited. Now I can make my dreams happen for real. My idea of success is to be financially stable, and have good relationships with my family ... and maybe have a family of my own. But not for a while," Eric assured me.

"My family has definitely impacted me in a positive way. My mom and dad always believed in me. They saw my strengths before I did.

"I will definitely hire DECA kids," Eric said like a seasoned business veteran. "They are willing to work."

Look into DECA at www.deca.com. This fine group is turning kids on to business and improving communication skills and self-esteem in the process. How cool is that?

No Shortage of Workers

There is no shortage of great workers. Consider the 13,000 cream-of-the-crop kids who attended the DECA finals! There is a shortage of great jobs. Most teens are just too darn smart to work long hours in extreme weather for little pay and no benefits.

You can develop winners by training, by putting systems in place, and by holding people accountable. Yep, even teenagers.

Knife Salesman Brooks Tipton

Eighteen-year-old Brooks recently graduated from Rogersville High School. He got a job selling kitchen knives. He called me last week and asked, politely, if he could put on a knife demonstration for me. I asked how much time he would need. I was assured the demo wouldn't take more than a half hour. We set a date and time.

Promptly at 11 am Brooks arrived. He wore nice slacks and a pressed shirt. He looked me in the eye as he shook my hand. He laid out his knives and opened a very professional presentation manual.

Brooks went through a scripted sales presentation. I know how a canned training package works-just say these words, and turn the pages. The interesting thing was that the presentation absolutely worked. Why? Because Brooks believes in it! He likes the company. He likes the knives. He is impressed-and so was I. I bought $150 worth of products, which was a great sale considering I don't cook. Brooks pointed out that the knives make great gifts. Gosh, I did have a few gift giving occasions coming up, so he saved me some running around. He did a nice job asking questions, and demonstrating features and benefits. And I bought.

Because my dad's birthday is just a few days away, I asked Brooks if he could FedEx the knives. He didn't know how to request that, but he promised he would look into it and let me know. I expected him to blow off the special request. He is a kid after all. Today is Sunday, and Brooks tracked me down on the tennis court to hand deliver the rush-order knives. Can you believe that? Shocking, isn't it?

Brooks was a competitive athlete at Rogersville High, and he definitely lit up when I asked him about the sales he had made in his short career. So far he is having a great work experience. He is on top of the world.

Brooks can set a cold call appointment, do a terrific demo, create trust, sell and follow up. In his career, what will ever be more difficult than what he is doing right now? This kid is a gold mine for the people he works for, now and in the future.

The knife company has a sound plan: Give a kid good instruction. Give him or her good tools. Expect great performance. Support the effort. And watch the kid shine!

Go get ‘em!

Shocked by these good news stories? I thought so. Kids today-yours and somebody else's-are wonderful. Why don't you get a few of them working for you?