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Teens face uncertain job market for seasonal work 

Summertime blues

click to enlarge With many seasonal options off the table, teens need work. - AGCREATIONS / SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  • AGCreations / Shutterstock.com
  • With many seasonal options off the table, teens need work.

It’s hard to say with authority what kind of job market teens looking for summer work will encounter in the summer of COVID-19, because no local agency tracks that employment demographic specifically.

But with pools closed, restaurants recently opening with only 50 percent occupancy and other businesses having scaled back hours or employees, it’s safe to say jobs for teenagers this summer will be scarcer than during a normal summer season.

Moreover, teens might find themselves competing for seasonal jobs with those thrown out of work due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As The Washington Post reports, millions of high school and college students are confronting a dearth of internships and a shortage of other jobs that might have burnished their résumés.

The depth of the problem is hard to get a handle on, though, because the Pikes Peak Workforce Center doesn’t track summer jobs for teens specifically. So Workforce Center Communications Manager Becca Tonn couldn’t say whether the number seeking jobs exceeds the number of jobs available.

She did note that Connecting Colorado, the state jobs database, shows more young adults from El Paso County registered this year than in 2019.

From Jan. 1 to May 26, 3,989 job seekers from 16 to 24 years old have registered, compared to 2,561 last year during the same period.

As of May 26, there were 2,562 people, ages 16 to 24, actively looking for work, she says via email. Of those, 1,619 are Unemployment Insurance claimants; it’s not clear whether teens who normally perform seasonal work would be collecting unemployment.

Regardless, some teens seeking a summer job could find themselves vying for slots also being sought by full-time workers with more experience who’ve found themselves suddenly unemployed.

“We expect that, yes, young adults will be vying for some of the jobs that adults are applying for,” Tonn says. “We also saw this during the Great Recession [of 2008].”

But she notes the job market might loosen up a bit as businesses receive authorization to reopen. “We’re seeing an uptick in new jobs posted by employers in Connecting Colorado,” she says.

Specifically, she notes 60 new job postings in El Paso County appeared on May 26, where as the daily average for the prior two weeks came to only 34.

While the city of Colorado Springs internship program has put about 10 interns to work per summer, “due to the current hiring freeze, the program is not seeking new interns at this time,” says Kim Melchor, lead communications specialist for the city. “We maintain and value our relationships with colleges and universities and we are working hard to continue to have a means to support it again in the future.”

However, the city announced in a release that, through a partnership with El Pomar Foundation, it will offer expanded summer employment opportunities through the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services department. Twenty-four “additional seasonal staff will be hired to support summer camps, sports programming and serve as facility attendants.”

Several golf courses couldn’t be reached for comment, but Kissing Camels Golf Course spokesperson Monica Lesnick says the staff there is smaller than usual due to the virus causing cancellation of some events. However, she adds, “We still have a busy season,” with open play for members and some leagues.

“If we need to hire more staff, we will do so,” she says, but adds that should more workers be needed, it’s most likely those furloughed or laid off will get first choice to return.

One area that could create opportunity, though, is landscaping work.

“I would say for any teenagers, if they’re struggling to find something, if they consider something in the landscape industry, they’ll have better luck,” says Stephanie Early, chief of strategy with Timberline Landscaping, one of the larger landscape companies in the region.

Timberline alone needs up to 80 seasonal workers every day to be at full staff, says HR manager Chris Loncar.

“There are certainly opportunities for people to come on,” he says. “We have a constant recruiting need, because labor is scarce. Even in this COVID environment, it’s still hard to find people. Any teen 16 and up who is willing to work hard and be outside for a few months, we still have 10 to 15 positions to fill.”

Early says job openings span the landscape industry. “You’ll find there are ample opportunities even with everything going on in the world at the moment,” she says. “We have spoken to other landscapers locally that are having a tough time finding the number of people who are needed.”

Summer calls to mind swimming pools in normal times, but these aren’t normal times, says Jennifer Hatfield, vice president of government affairs and codes at the national Pool and Hot Tub Alliance, based in Colorado Springs.

“One of the things we talked about this year, it’s not just whether there are enough lifeguards, but it’s also about whether there are state and local directives that allow the opening of public aquatic facilities,” she tells the Indy.

Even if governors allow pools to open, it will be up to governing boards as to whether they feel comfortable opening with more protections in place, she says.

“We’re seeing a mixed bag,” she says. “Some are opening. Some have closed for the season already. Some are still waiting to make a decision.”

The YMCA of the Pikes Peak Region, which operates city pools here, says on its website all YMCA facilities remain closed. That could change in coming weeks, however.

Should pools open, the question will be whether enough lifeguards are available. “Training has not been allowed because of the need for social distancing,” Hatfield says, adding it’s hard to social distance when you’re demonstrating the ability to rescue a flailing swimmer.

While the Pool and Hot Tub Alliance doesn’t track summer jobs for youth, Hatfield notes some colleges and universities will begin fall terms earlier than normal to finish the term by Thanksgiving, meaning some college-age workers will either opt not to work this summer or leave the workforce early.

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