Summer job market still tough on teens

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Thursday, May 10, 2012
— An improving national job market should help summer job seekers, but teen employment levels are just ahead of record lows recorded in 2010.

That's the consensus of the annual teen summer employment outlook from Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a global outplacement company based in Chicago.

Local teens have employment opportunities, but they have to aggressively seek them out, said Bob Borremans, executive director of Southwest Wisconsin Workforce Development Board that runs the Rock County Job Center in Janesville.

"I would certainly encourage young people to come into the job center," he said. "It's not just a resource for older people or dislocated workers."

Borremans said the state job center's website has listings that appeal to younger workers, and the number listings are growing every week.

"Some employers just aren't finding the skills they need, and those skills are sometimes with computers and outdoor work," he said. "They're very interested in kids that can show up on time, be reliable, pay attention to detail and can help in customer service."

As job openings increase, dislocated and older workers gravitate toward positions that aren't entry-level, those typically associated with retail, fast food and seasonal work, Borremans said.

That should create opportunities for younger people looking for seasonal or summer jobs, he said.

"I think young people sometimes get painted with a broad brush, one that says they don't want to work," Borremans said. "I've interacted with enough that I've seen that's just not true.

"Many of these kids have the same interests and goals that many of us older people had when we were that age."

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that teen employment gains hit record lows in 2010 but have since started to recover slightly. The 960,000 teens added to payrolls in 2010 was the lowest total since 1949.

Teens were in high demand before the 2008 recession, said John Challenger, chief executive officer of the Chicago company.

"Many of the same issues that kept teen hiring subdued over the last three years still exist," he said in a news release.

Employers are finding ways to meet demand with existing workers, he said, and there are still millions of Americans in their 20sówith and without college degreesówho are willing to take jobs typically filled by teens.

In addition, municipalities that typically hire teens are struggling with budget issues.

Seasonal hiring is down by the city of Janesville.

Tom Presny, the city's parks director, said his department typically hires 18 seasonal workers each summer. This year, the department hired 13, and about half of those are carryover employees from last year.

"It's primarily because of budget issues," he said. "As a result, we've changed our mowing schedule from seven days to eight days, so we need fewer people."

John Whitcomb, the city's operations director, said that at its peak, his department had 15 to 17 seasonal workers.

This year, it hired five.

"That's primarily a function of us becoming more of a maintenance operation than a street construction group," he said. "We're just not doing that work anymore."

K&W Greenery in Janesville, which picks up its pace in the summer, is once again humming along with a full slate of seasonal workers.

The business typically hires students and younger employees for the months of April, May and June.

"We don't really have summer jobs, because most of those jobs are done in June," Phyllis Williams said. "We're upfront with the kids about thatóthat they may be trying to find another job right in the heart of the summer.

Still, K&W doesn't have any trouble filling its seasonal jobs, she said.

"We have a pretty thick file of good people," she said. "I think that's a testament to the strong work ethic in Rock County and its rural background. These kids see it in their parents, and it carries over to them."

Challenger said the nation still is several years away from seeing teen summer hiring return to pre-recession levels.

"Teenagers hoping to find employment this summer definitely want to start their searches now," he said. "They should not expect to find a job simply by filling out electronic applications through employers websites and online job boards.

"Those are great places to find opportunities, but the key is to engage in an active search that focuses on meeting with hiring managers face-to-face."


Even though more teens are dropping out of the labor force, the competition for summer and seasonal jobs is fierce, said John Challenger of the outplacement firm of Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

In a news release, Challenger offers these tips for summer job seekers:

-- Move away from the computer: Not all opportunities are in the digital realm.

"Many mom-and-pop stores do not advertise job openings on the Internet," he said. "Nor do families looking for babysitters, lawnmowers or housecleaners."

-- Use parents and friends as sources for leads.

"Try to meet hiring managers face-to-face, as opposed to simply dropping off a completed application form with a random clerk at the sales counter," Challenger said.

-- Use newspapers, both print and online, as a source.

"The classified ad section will contain some help wanted advertisements, but do not forget to read the local and business news sections where you might find stories about new local businesses that are struggling to find workers," he said.

-- Don't get frustrated.

"Many teens give up after applying to 10 or 12 jobs," he said. "Chance are good that there are more than 10 or 12 employers in your town, so it is necessary to cast a wider net. There are many summer job opportunities outside the confines of the local mall."

Last updated: 8:37 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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