The First Job series is an initiative of the Youth Employment Council of the Northwest Indiana Workforce Board. Many variables have made it more difficult than ever for a young person to capture a first job and the NWIWB believes employers can have an impact on our future workforce by hiring a young person.
Violet Sistovaris is president of Northern Indiana Public Service Company. The utility firm is best known to residents of Northwest Indiana as the gas and electric company. Its service area actually encompasses all of northern Indiana, providing 786,000 customers with gas and 457,000 customers with electricity. Violet joined NIPSCO in 1994 and became president in 2015.
What was your first teen job for pay?
I rode my bike to a small business in my neighborhood that was a combination Laundromat and dry cleaners. I grew up on the southeast side of Fort Wayne and I did this job for a couple of summers.
How did you find the job?
A friend of my dad’s owned the business. My dad told the owner that he had daughters who were smart and good with money but I was the one who needed a job. So, I was hired.
How much were you paid?
I don’t remember the hourly wage but I can tell you that I spent nearly every penny on clothes and shoes for the upcoming school year. I went to the local mall and spent most of my earnings at JC Penney and Claire’s.
What did you do?
I worked the counter and greeted customers as they dropped off clothes to be dry-cleaned. I loved the customer interaction. I had regular customers and I enjoyed catching up with the activities in their lives. I had moms that came in and needed a stain removed from an item they needed to wear later that day.
What skills did you acquire?
I became pretty good at problem solving and multi-tasking. The work was steady with several high peaks during my shift. I had to figure out why a certain machine wasn’t working while several customers stood in line to drop off clothes to be dry-cleaned. I also learned several financial duties that included billing and balancing out my cash drawer at the end of my shift.
I have to believe you are a master remover of stains.
(Laughing) I can report to you that I do my own laundry.
What was your least favorite task?
The coin-operated machines that dispensed laundry soap were not very reliable. I was not mechanically inclined but I did learn that a good smack would usually get the machine to release the laundry soap.
I understand that you invite elementary-age girls to a career exploration day at NIPSCO?
Yes. On President’s Day we invite 125 Girl Scouts to our corporate headquarters in Merrillville as we talk to them about becoming an engineer. It’s a non-traditional path for women and we hope to change that mindset. I serve on the board of directors of the Girl Scouts of Chicago and Northwest Indiana.
I welcome the girls to our office, and then we divide them into teams and we have the girls participate in a competitive event. The Girl Scouts also have a chance to meet and talk with female engineers, and understand what they do. It’s never too early to explore careers. It’s a standing room-only event!
What other career and workforce programs does NIPSCO sponsor?
We work with many of our local schools; we inform students, teachers and counselors about the state of our industry and the skills people will need to be employed by NIPSCO or another energy company. We provide mentoring programs for high school students as well as internships and field trips to our local facilities.
As the city of Gary is within our service territory, we also work with Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson and have a summer youth jobs program. We want them involved in a positive and meaningful experience. We are very vested in our youth.
What advice would you give to a young person about to begin their first job?
Whatever the position, work hard and take the job very seriously. Ask questions. Always do right by your employer. My dad always said to my sisters and me: “Someone is paying you girls a lot of money. Make sure that you show up and do the very best job that you can.”
What advice would you give to employers about hiring youth and sponsoring workforce activities?
Do it! The students are our future and we need to provide them mentoring, internships and summer jobs. Students need the opportunity to join the workforce and learn more about the exciting careers we can offer them. They must understand our expectations of them and the skills we need.