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Working Hard To Find Work Clamor For Summer Service Jobs A Mark Of Spring, High Jobless Rate

Sun., March 9, 1997, midnight

A kaleidoscope of reasons brought dozens of people to Silverwood Theme Park on Saturday to neatly fill in boxes on forms and wait for interviews.

For 16-year-old Helen Kathman of Athol, dressed smartly in a black skirt, dreams of a car steadied her jitters from her first real job interview.

“I hope I can get some work at the front desk,” Kathman said, sitting in a big chair at one of the park’s restaurants. “I’m kinda nervous.”

More than half the park’s 425 positions get filled by teens in high school or just going into college, said Lori Brooke, head of human resources. “I just love 15-year-olds,” she said. “They’re just a lot of fun.”

The clamor for summer service jobs is a rite of spring for North Idaho’s tourist trade. And the opening of a major retail store in Coeur d’Alene, Fred Meyer, has hundreds more job seekers lining up this year.

Jobless rates help explain why so many want summer employment. Kootenai County’s unemployment rate of 8.6 percent in February is far higher than neighboring Spokane County and the rest of Idaho.

Ken Dawson of Hayden Lake was hoping to “meet the right people” at the park to show them his skills with computers. The rough winter ended his work with apple producers in Eastern Washington, who suffered massive damage to their facilities because of heavy snow. Dawson said he was doing research work for the growers when the storms hit, and the roofs collapsed under the building where his job was.

“I’ve got four kids to feed,” Dawson said. “My wife told me to get the heck on over here when she saw the job fair in the paper.”

If nothing comes along for Dawson, he’ll have to sell his car to get some cash, he said. “If we hadn’t saved from the last job, we’d be in trouble.”

Competition for positions at the park remains stiff. Four or five candidates apply for each job, said park marketing director David Palmer.

Applications for work are at record levels. People seem attracted to flexible hours, jobs in the sun, and the fun atmosphere, Palmer said.

Many in the region work at the area ski resorts - especially Schweitzer Mountain Resort in Sandpoint - and then pick up hours at Silverwood, Brooke said. The two businesses work together to let their employees know about opportunities, she said.

For 22-year-old Josh Hardin, steady work has been hard to come by in Kootenai County since he arrived here last year from Alaska.

“Most recently I’ve been moving people,” he said. “I hope I can find some bartending work here.”

Service-type jobs make up the largest part of the county’s workforce, especially during the tourist season. Locals aren’t known for generous tipping, Hardin notes. The jobs don’t pay particularly well, but at Silverwood, at least there are perks such as family events for employees.

The park also covets its senior employees, many of whom like the jobs because they get to spend time with kids, Brooke said. “They get to be grandmas and grandpas to these kids.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

Tags: labor

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