As teens face more competition in the industries where they’ve traditionally gained experience, volunteering and internships become even more critical
Shayna Beeching is looking for a job – a daunting mission for anyone in this economy.
But the 17-year-old from Spokane Valley has a slight advantage over others her age. She has volunteered since she was 14, and her work at the SCRAPS animal shelter has given Beeching skills that will help her land a paying job.
The recession wiped away jobs for many teenage workers, depriving them of the opportunity to learn basic skills employers look for in hiring entry-level workers. As the job market shows signs of recovery, young workers find they lack the experience needed to land full-time work or even summer jobs.
In many cases, positions suitable for teens have been filled by older workers with more experience who were laid off and settled for lower-paying jobs.
More than ever, experts say, young people need practical knowledge and skills to break into the job market, where 1 in 4 teens locally has no job. Employers put applicants with job skills at the top of the list, said Doug Tweedy, the state’s regional labor economist in Spokane.
“The No. 1 way teens can do that (outside of a job) is volunteering, internships or mentoring,” Tweedy said. “I don’t think kids realize it doesn’t have to be a job, it doesn’t have to be paid. Experience can come paid or unpaid. What employers want is someone to call for a reference.”
Labor experts say the Inland Northwest is fortunate to have many teen-friendly corporations, but finding an entry-level job became tough during the economic downturn.
Unemployment for Spokane County’s 16- to 19-year-olds climbed to 33.7 percent in 2010 – the highest rate of any age group, Tweedy said. Last year the teen jobless rate slipped back to 24.5 percent, matching a five-year average.
Nationally, 49 percent of those ages 16-24 had jobs in July, the month when youth employment usually peaks, according to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics. Ten years ago, 63 percent of people in that age range were employed.
But the market is beginning to turn, and summer jobs are a good opportunity for teens to gain some of the skills to help them find a better position in the workforce.
“We are seeing more jobs available to teens,” Tweedy said. Economists base the summer outlook on a report that breaks down industry hiring by age group.
“The thing they have to do is start early. This is a really good time to start.”
Local teens often find summer work at golf courses, parks, swimming pools, and amusement and water parks. Many grocery stores also hire more teens during the summer months.
Teens should also consider other industries in the region, Tweedy said. For example, transportation, warehousing, manufacturing and health care jobs often become available to teens during the summer because many regular full-time employees take vacation.
He added, “Customer service, clerical jobs, landscape, maintenance, delivery and general labor – those would be the industries that I would target for a yearlong job, and these are probably the industries that will lead us out of the economic downslide.”
Young people trying to find work can boost their chances by volunteering first, gaining them experience and references.
“If you are not working and looking for a job, it’s important to volunteer or do internships in the meantime,” said Heidi Peterson, youth services manager at the Next Generation Zone, a one-stop shop for young job seekers through the state’s WorkSource offices in Spokane.
Tutoring children, spending time with the elderly, working with animals and performing office chores are a few of the experiences that help teens get a start in the work world.
“If transportation is an issue, look at nearby businesses,” Peterson suggested. “Employers often like to hear people are from the neighborhood.”
Francine Moniz, volunteer coordinator at SCRAPS, supervises about 20 teens, including Beeching. She said volunteering is a “good way to show employers that you have enough passion about something to go do something about it.” The teens learn about time management, keeping commitments and working as a team, she added.
Beeching lately has applied for six jobs, mostly in retail. “I’m definitely putting volunteering on my applications,” she said.
Silverwood Theme Park considers volunteer experience when hiring for the amusement and water park north of Coeur d’Alene, spokeswoman Nancy DiGiammarco said.
“If there are teens who volunteer at church or on one of the military bases or (are) tutoring other students – quite often we look at them as our future supervisors,” DiGiammarco said. “That’s just more experience and makes them more valuable.”
Tutoring children “shows they can work with different age groups, follow-through and planning,” Peterson said.
When the recent recession hit, Silverwood saw a surge in applications for summer jobs: 4,000 last year, more than twice as many as two years earlier. And more older workers began going after the temporary jobs there, DiGiammarco said. This summer the park plans to hire 1,300 workers.
“In the past, the majority of the people applying would be teenagers and college students, but now we are getting more seniors trying to supplement their income and adults who have lost their jobs,” she said. “We’ve even had whole families, such as a mom, dad and a child, working here at the same time.”
But Silverwood considers itself a training ground for young people.
“We put them through customer service training, teach them about teamwork, timeliness, calling in sick, not just not showing up, importance of appearance, teach them how to handle cash and how to do math – a skill many of them don’t have,” DiGiammarco said. “We teach them these skills so they can go forward to be successful in the workforce.”
Social activities such as employee parties and barbecues are also a staple at Silverwood. “It’s important that they bond and feel like a team working together,” DiGiammarco said.
Rosauers Supermarkets is another employer that welcomes young applicants and is willing to give them some basic training. But teens must make a good first impression, said Paul Van Gordon, vice president of labor and human resources.
“Did they prepare themselves to be considered for an interview – dress, grooming – those are signs of maturity and interest,” Van Gordon said.
About 15 to 18 percent of Rosauers’ workforce is teens. “This is a business where everybody starts at an entry-level position: courtesy clerk,” he said. It’s a position considered critical to the Spokane-based chain of Northwest stores. “We look for people who are personable and can talk with the customer. The most important aspect in an applicant is their personality.”
Laying a foundation
If Spokane-area teens can’t find an employer to take a chance on them, the Next Generation Zone is a good place to start.
“The Next Generation Zone is a pathway to careers,” Peterson said. “We help connect the dots for youth, such as how to get the job, how to keep the job, how to put together a résumé – all the foundations or building blocks.”
The program, working with about 2,000 youths annually, offers a two-day afternoon class for teens with no experience. They learn how to search and apply for jobs and how to dress and prepare for job interviews. And they learn how to conduct themselves once they get a job: “Being on time or a little early and taking initiative,” she said.
The class also offers advice on financial literacy, such as the importance of savings and considering needs before wants.
When it’s time for youths to find a job, Peterson said, teens should “look anywhere they can get their foot in the door.”
Networking is also important, she said. “A lot of us got our first jobs because our neighbors knew someone or our parents. It’s hard to do, but it’s important in order to find out what’s out there that’s not advertised.”
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 75 to 85 percent of jobs are not advertised in the newspaper or posted on online job boards.
Employment specialists suggest that whatever teens do, they need to be active. Being idle and expecting a serious look from employers is not realistic.
“It’s nice if they’ve had some employment practice – baby-sitting, lawn work. If they have an employment history, we call their references,” Rosauers’ Van Gordon said. “Someone who shows they have had involvement in the community, in their school, those show strong signs of character.”
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