News & Media

This Summer, will work, but where? - The Morning Call

May 31, 2011  |  The Morning Call  |  Link to article

In his summer job search, Alexander SanJurjo followed his friends and applied at a place known for hiring teenagers: Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom. The amusement park still hasn't called him back. Like Alexander, a lot of other 16-year-olds will get no job interviews and no offers this summer.

Though Dorney Park expects to hire 3,300 people this summer and fall, few positions will be for teenagers under 18. That's not only because there are a limited number of jobs young teens can do, but because out-of-work adults are increasingly scooping up the jobs, said Ann Jones, Dorney Park's director of human resources. "We are seeing more older individuals," Jones said. "Some people are here for a second job and some are retirees."

What Jones is seeing isn't unusual. More than 500 people attended the Lehigh Valley IronPigs' job fair in February, with jean-clad teens filling out applications beside out-of-work adults in business suits. The sour economy means stiff competition for teens seeking summer jobs once presumed theirs.

More than one in four teens, over the age of 15, is unemployed, while 20-24-year-olds have slightly better prospects with a nearly 15 percent unemployment rate, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Compare that to pre-recession 2006, when the unemployment rate was 15 percent for teens and 8 percent for young adults. "That says a message right there," said Nancy Dischinat, executive director of the Lehigh Valley Workforce Investment Board.

Locally, the picture hasn't been much better. In the first four months of 2005, there were 7,581 new hires of people between 14 and 21 years old, while for the same period in 2010, that number dropped to 5,249, according to the Workforce Investment Board.

While there are already more candidates than there are jobs, during the summer, competition intensifies because of the flood of high school and college students, Dischinat said. And there are fewer jobs. Dischinat said in previous years, area municipalities and school districts would request several students to run recreation programs or work as lifeguards, but this year those calls haven't come in.

And an industry such as landscaping, traditionally a seasonal employment haven for strong young laborers, doesn't have as many jobs because people are holding off on getting their yards serviced, Dischinat said.

In April, McDonald's announced it was hiring 50,000 people nationwide. Christina Mueller-Curran, who owns 16 McDonald's - including two in Allentown - expects to hire between five and 10 at each restaurant. While the fast-food chain traditionally is a place where teens develop their employment chops, the work isn't seasonal. McDonald's wants year-round workers, which is too much of a commitment for some kids in school and extracurricular activities.

The summer employment outlook hasn't changed much from last year. But if offers seem fewer and farther between, there's a reason.

"What we have seen is our turnover decreasing. ...There's just fewer jobs, and people are holding onto the ones we're giving them," Mueller-Curran said. "There's not just that many opportunities out there right now."

The lack of jobs became apparent to the Rev. Maritza Dolich not long after she first invited a group of teenagers and young adults into her Allentown church to break-dance away from the heat. As summer approached, Dolich, pastor at St. Stephen's Lutheran Church, started hearing the same refrain - there are no jobs - and the barriers to employment became obvious.

For many city kids, transportation stands in the way of a job. Even getting to Dorney could take up to 21/2 hours when waiting for multiple buses, Dolich noted.

Additionally, some companies accept online applications only, which hurts those students who don't have Internet access, she said.

Alexander SanJurjo, one of Dolich's break-dancers, plans to hit Burger King, McDonald's, Arby's and Foot Locker if Dorney doesn't work out. But first, the Allentown teen will have to get his paperwork together.

"I don't really know how it's done," he said.

To help students like Alexander navigate the job process, Dolich asked Congregations United for Neighborhood Action to get involved. With the support of Allentown and Mayor Ed Pawlowski, CUNA launched an initiative to place at least 25 students with local companies.

So far, six have been placed, though getting them a job isn't the pilot program's only goal. It also will give teens opportunities to be mentored or shadow employees, and to receive job training.

In a letter asking business owners to participate, Pawlowski said the effort is of "economic and social importance."

"Teens who work have a greater likelihood to graduate from high school and they receive the soft business and trade skills necessary for future employment," he said.

By the time school ends, Dolich, who is a CUNA board member, hopes the program has placed all 25 students in summer jobs.

While teens struggle to make money this summer, the outlook is brighter for some other job seekers.

There were 31,800 jobs in the leisure and hospitality industry in the Lehigh Valley region in March, according to the latest data from the state Department of Labor and Industry. That's 2,500 more jobs than there were in March 2010.

That number could continue to climb. In the past, high gasoline prices have translated to increased visits to the region, said Michael Stershic, president of the local tourism agency, Discover Lehigh Valley.

Dischinat advises teens not to ignore those jobs and to try another route they might not have considered: manufacturing. In the first four months of this year, the number of Pennsylvania workers in that industry swelled by 9,200, according to the state data.

The most important thing teenagers need to realize is how much work goes into finding a job, Dischinat said.

"You have to be entrepreneurial," she said. "Be a little more aggressive and assertive in trying to make some money."


For interviewing and resume tips, don't miss:

• May 31: 6-7:30 p.m. at St. Stephen's Lutheran Church at 1421 Turner St., Allentown

Want to meet potential employers? Head to:

•June 9: 4-6 p.m. at Donley Center at 718 Hamilton St., Allentown

All are welcome