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Young job hunters facing a summer of discontent

Image: Rachel DeYoung
Rachel DeYoung, 17, works at her part-time job, making ice cream sundaes and cones, at the West End Creamery and Family Farm in Whitinsville, Mass. DeYoung accepted this job early in the season as summer jobs will be scarce for area teens this year.AP / AP

Kelle Scott, 16, wanted a summer job, so this year she decided to start looking early in order to beat the rush.

“At first, I started to fill out applications in January for Subway, Target, Walmart, but no one called me back,” said the teen, who lives in Cleveland. She then tried using job search site, remembering the advice of a summer camp counselor from last year, and ended up landing a job at a national restaurant chain.

Even though her goal was summer employment, she decided to take the job last month and is now working about 15 hours a week, with plans to go full-time when school is out.

“I could have waited for summer, but there’s going to be a long line,” she said about young people looking for work.

Scott may have made a wise decision. The summer job market for teens is a mixed bag this year, according to economists, jobs sites, and employers, but the one thing that almost everyone agrees on is that the sooner you start your job search, the better.

According to a SnagAJob poll, 43 percent of hiring managers with available jobs expect to complete their summer seasonal hiring by the end of this month, compared to 40 percent last year.

Most of the hiring at Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari in Santa Claus, Indiana, is done in February and March, with training in April, said Paula Werne, a spokeswoman for the theme/water park. The company typically hires 2,100 seasonal workers, and it’s definitely an employer’s market right now.

“I’ve been at Holiday World Theme Park for 18 years and have never seen our HR department fill all of our seasonal needs so easily,” Werne explained. “Sadly, it’s because of the economy. We are out in the country and it’s normally a challenge to fully staff.”

Indeed, it will continue to be a tough summer job market for teens this year, given that the teen unemployment rate was hovering at 24 percent in March, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“Teens are going to face a tough time,” said William Even, a labor economist with Farmer School of Business at Miami University in Ohio.

Aside from amusement parks and resort jobs, the two most popular sources of jobs for teens are the food service industry and retail jobs, and those sectors are seeing an influx of older workers who may not have considered such jobs in the past, said Even. And, he added, a growing number of teens are taking themselves out of the job market, and have been for some time.

Teenagers use any available surface as a work surface to fill summer job applications at a teen job fair held at the Swanson Public Library in Omaha, Neb., Monday, April 6, 2009. With the economy in bad shape no one is sure whatthe job prospects are for teens this summer (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)Nati Harnik / AP

“If you go back to 1948, the first year they started keeping tabs on teens, last year was the lowest percentage of teens employed in the summer,” Even noted.

While some teens may be disheartened by the poor job market, others are focused on volunteering, or enrolling in summer school, hoping to get into a good college, Evan pointed out. At the same time, he added, a number of older workers are looking for work, while others are re-entering the job market.

“Over last decade,” he said, “while the number of people employed in food services went up by one million, the number of 16 to 19-year old workers dropped by one-quarter of a million, whereas the number of workers aged 55 and older went up by 128,000.”

Whether teens are discouraged, or looking for opportunities for personal enrichment instead of real work, fewer teens have been searching for summer jobs recently, according to Yahoo!

  • Searches on Yahoo! for “summer jobs for teenagers” have decreased 66 percent when comparing the last 4 weeks to the same time period in 2010.
  • Searches on Yahoo! for “summer jobs” have decreased 31 percent when comparing the last 8 weeks to the same time period in 2010.

But many teens still see a summer job as a great thing to have on the resume for college and for their future careers, and as a way to make some extra money. Take Sam Arijeloye, 17, from Brooklyn. He’s landed a three-week job with Goldman Sachs and that fits in nicely for his plan to “end up on Wall Street some day.”

During the past three summers Arijeloye was busy doing community work, but decided he needed paid work this summer because he believes it will look good to future employers and it will help him save up for college.

“This year is about making money and getting experience,” he said.

Arijeloye is also looking for another job so he can work throughout the summer, but the search hasn’t been easy.

“You have a pile of people looking for jobs,” he said, and that’s why he hooked up with workforce readiness program Junior Achievement in New York to help him land the Goldman position.

“They gave me the connections,” he said.

Joseph Peri, president of Junior Achievement, said there has been some discouragement out there among teens because of the tough economic environment. With so many adult workers looking for jobs, teens can sometimes be pushed out of consideration because they just don’t have the experience or the perceived reliability to compete, he explained.

“When you talk to kids they often say they’re asked by prospective employers about their experience,” Peri said. “If no one gives them a job, how do they get the experience? It’s a vicious cycle.”

There are lots of community and government programs designed to help teens find employment, and one recent initiative involves the Department of Labor, which launched a summer jobs website earlier this month. And part of the agency’s effort includes enlisting employers around the country who give young workers a chance.

UPS, for example, plans on hiring 1,500 summer employees aged 16 to 24 at 72 locations.

The UPS jobs are entry level and mainly involve package handling, said Matt Lavery, managing director of talent acquisition for the company. And the company is looking to mainly hire kids 17 and older.

There are other promising signs for teens.

A hiring manager survey by SnagAJob found the average pay for summer jobs is expected to climb to $10.90 an hour this summer, up from $10.20 for the last two summers. And 10 percent of those polled said they’d be hiring more seasonal workers this year, up from 6 percent last year. What’s more, while competition is still the norm, with 60 percent of those surveyed saying they expect more job applications this year, that number is down from 66 percent for last summer.

Indeed, some employers actually can’t find enough teens.

Alan Krawitz, owner of Bath Fitter, a bath remodeling company in Copiague, N.Y., said he’s already made attempts to hire for the summer by attending street fairs and concerts. But, he added, “I’m having trouble finding teens or others to fill these spots.”

The bottom line is it’s never too late. So, if you want a summer gig, hit the pavement soon.