Janae Piapot, 19, works as a teaching assistant at Corbin Art Center.
She’ll be in that job all summer helping children discover art. She also enjoys learning job skills.
“I think it’s important to work, but school’s also important,” said the Spokane resident who is completing GED studies at the Next Generation Zone. The center offers education, training, and employment services for Spokane County youth ages 16-24.
“I like working in the community,” Piapot said. “We’ll start with scraps, and we create something. The kids love it.”
Seventeen-year-old Jael Allen has worked since she turned 16 and believes handling job responsibilities will prepare her for college. The North Central High School junior plans to keep working as a cashier at Hobby Lobby over the summer.
“I do want to go to college after high school, so working at a job has helped me see how much I like to work with people,” she said. “As soon as I had a job, I became more independent and responsible.
“It’s up to you to get there and work. That taught me a lot about responsibility and how to handle money.”
As school days wane, fewer U.S. teens are seeking traditional summer jobs in retail and kids programs, or even scooping ice cream and lifeguarding.
In July 2016, the U.S. labor force participation rate for ages 16-19 was 43.2 percent, down steeply from a high of nearly 72 percent in July 1978, a Bureau of Labor Statistics report said. It projects a steeper drop by 2024, with 26 percent of teens expected to be holding summer jobs.
In Spokane and North Idaho, teens often land jobs with the Spokane Indians baseball team, Silverwood Theme Park and local parks departments.
Work in Spokane County industries often employing youth has increased by 800 jobs so far this year over 2017’s first five months in leisure-hospitality, retail-trade and agriculture, said Doug Tweedy, regional economist for the state Employment Security Department.
However, jobs in these sectors are expected to decrease in the next five years, thanks to internet shopping, technology advances, increased workplace efficiencies and new equipment for maintaining recreational areas.
Impacts from minimum wage hikes are hard to pin down, Tweedy said, “because the economy is so strong right now.” More youth are doing internships and apprenticeships, he added.
“We’ve seen an increase in apprenticeships,” he said. “They used to be mainly in the construction industry, but now other industries are looking at that as a way to fill vacancies.”
For 2016 in Spokane County, youth ages 14-18 made up 1.8 percent of the total workforce. For employees ages 19-21, 5.2 percent of that age group were in the workforce.
Mary True, a North Central High School college and career counselor, said she definitely sees teens who want jobs.
“Students at all ages, even our 14-year-olds, do want to work during the summer,” True said. “I’d say at least 25 percent of our students would like to have a job, but it’s difficult to find them because most of these kids are under 18.”
Many of her students are also volunteering, she said.
“Probably about 75 percent of our kids are looking for some kind of volunteer service to put on their resumes before their senior year,” True said.
She sees value both from job experiences and volunteering.
“Scholarship donors love community service,” she said. “Most kiddos who do community service are also self-starters and show leadership. Many colleges are looking for that type of student.”
But references are also key. “The way I talk about it to the student is, do you have a teacher or an employer who said, ‘Yes, you showed up on time and you are trustworthy?’ ”
While community service is valued, college officials do say that universities consider any work experience among other qualities.
Erin Hays, Gonzaga University’s director of undergraduate admission, said university officials consider more than one set of activities or work listed on applications. It’s more an overall look at how a student demonstrates being engaged in the world.
That differs for each applicant based on circumstances and family situations, she said.
“A student who works part-time quite often can be doing that for the benefit of the family, and we really respect students who do that,” Hays said. “We look at the level of responsibilities and skills they developed by working part-time.
“There are also students who are really involved in activities, and they just don’t have time for work. Academics is always the first thing. Beyond that, we know that students learn a lot outside the classroom.”
Trina Clayeux, Next Generation Zone director, said that although the center is more focused on helping youth gain long-term employment in strong sectors such as advanced manufacturing, it does help place teens in summer positions.
In the past three years, she said the center has worked with the city of Spokane’s Park and Recreation Department to help fill seasonal jobs such as for recreation leagues or golf course crews.
The center also works with some Spokane businesses offering hospitality and landscaping jobs.
“We work with businesses that bring them back,” Clayeux said. “It’s good for our young adults who have finished school or are transitioning to post-secondary education.”
Young adults sometimes have challenges in gaining work when they’re told they need prior job experience. “The challenge is to fill that gap,” Clayeux said. “Paid internships are one avenue.”
Brittany Brockie, 21, was hired by the city as a volleyball court monitor, and she expects to work this summer in children’s programs at parks. She said people her age and teens she knows are finding jobs, but “it’s really up to the person.”
“There are a lot of resources out there that will help you find a job,” she said. “There are people my age, and all they do is work. They support themselves.”
More avenues are needed for teens and young adults to enter the workforce, Tweedy said.
“Baby boomers are retiring at faster rates,” he said. “Twenty-two percent of all workers in Spokane County are over the age 55.
“We need more youth to come into the labor force.”