Local teens struggle to find summer work

May 20, 2011
By Thor Jourgensen/The Daily Item

Classical High student Nashaly Santana, 17, said she applied to six jobs before accepting a position at McDonald's on the Lynnway two months ago.

"No one is really hiring," she said, adding that her friends are struggling to find jobs, too.

According to a recent survey conducted by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, teen employment will hit an all-time low this summer. In the last 10 years, teen employment has dropped from 46 percent to under 27 percent. Last summer, the rate was the lowest since the end of World War II and experts expect that it will continue to dip. Even as employment for adults slowly climbs, teens are finding it harder than ever to find work.

Mary Sarris, Executive Director for the North Shore Workforce Investment Board, said there are a number of reasons to blame for the high unemployment, but the main concern is that many entry-level jobs have either been eliminated or have become highly complex. Most companies require a higher level of technology or management experience for entry-level jobs - experience that first-time workers can't compete with.

Instead, companies are looking to hire older adults who have gone back to work as a result of the recession.

Sarris said many companies are more focused on, and even catering to, the aging workforce. At CVS Pharmacy, an older worker can work the warmer half of the year in Boston and work the colder months in Florida. If a teenager and an older person both apply for the same job, companies will most likely hire the older worker because there is a perception of more maturity and experience.

"I think sometimes adults can be wary of teens and their ability to work," said Sarris. "There's this stereotype that (teens) don't care, don't know how to dress and don't know how to act. I know so many teens that aren't that stereotype. I cannot tell you how many teens I've met over the past few years who are desperate to work."

Teens themselves are familiar with the stereotype. Jeannette Mondaunt, a sophomore at Classical, made sure to stay clear of businesses with a lot of teenage employees during her recent job hunt. "I don't want to work in a place where there's a lot of teens because adults look down on them - like they're not serious because it's just a teen job," said Mondaunt, 16.

Even college students are taking jobs away from the high school students. Sarris cited another study that said two-thirds of all college graduates under the age of 25 are working in a job that doesn't require a degree.

Without jobs, teens won't only be sacrificing a paycheck. They miss out on gaining the maturity that comes with the responsibility of holding down a job. Studies show that teens who work 10-15 hours during the school year actually perform better in school. Their after-school jobs provide them with more structure, crucial skills like time management and usually an adult mentor who cares about their success.

Those attributes add up to a teen seeing value in their work, education and in themselves, which leads to a student finishing school and getting a steady job when they graduate.

To combat teen unemployment, Sarris and her Career Service outlets in Lynn and Salem teamed up to create F1rst Jobs, a program that provides jobs to teens with companies in the area like Eastern Bank, North Shore Bank in Peabody and the TJX Company. F1rst Jobs picks up where the federal government left off. According to Sarris, there used to be a government-funded program that gave non-profit and public-sector jobs to at-risk teens, but it ended in the '90s.

Recently, Sarris and her team received support from a similar state program called Youth Works, but it only helped around 91 kids find jobs, a number that Sarris calls "the tip of the iceberg."

Though the future does seem bleak for teens and their bank accounts, Sarris says there are things they can do to boost their chance of getting a job. Career centers in Lynn and Salem are dedicated to helping teens - and everyone else - find jobs through educational workshops that take hopefuls through the hiring process, from the application, to putting together a resume, to what to do during the interview, and finally, how to behave on the job. Outside the career centers, teens should do volunteer work to boost skills and fill their resumes, and also to take advantage of networks.

"Kids have more networks than they realize," said Sarris. "Talk to friends and neighbors to find out who works where and how they got their job. Talk to adults like teachers and guidance counselors for advice."

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