- The Washington Times - Monday, May 4, 2009

Young people will find fierce competition for a shrinking pool of traditional summer jobs this year from the swelling ranks of laid-off workers.

“Teens are competing not only with other members of their age group, but also with older, more experienced job seekers willing to accept positions for which they are most likely overqualified,” said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of employment consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

High schoolers are also competing with college students who are lowering their job expectations.

“I’ve sent out a lot of applications and haven’t really gotten any responses,” said Dominique Escalera, a 17-year-old student at Robert E. Lee High School in Springfield.

“All the jobs are taken already and college kids are taking them, too,” she said, speaking with friends Wednesday at Malek’s Pizza Palace in Springfield.

The same economic conditions driving more people into the seasonal workplace are slashing the number of summer jobs available.

Since last fall, the economy has lost jobs at a rate of 600,000 per month, according to Labor Department statistics.

“It is possible that for the first time since 1954, fewer than [1 million] 16- to 19-year-olds will find summer jobs,” Challenger, Gray & Christmas said. In 2007, there were 1.6 million such jobs. Last year, there were 1.2 million, according to the firm.

Austin Hall, 18, a senior on the track team at West Springfield High School, is attending Hampton University in Hampton, Va., next fall on an academic scholarship. He expects to enroll in a five-year MBA program.

For now, he may feel lucky if he gets one of the two part-time cashier’s jobs open at Malek’s, where he turned in an application after seeing the restaurant’s help-wanted sign.

Even though he is off to an early start, his job search “has been a long one,” Mr. Hall said. He has submitted many applications but has gotten no responses.

“I know the jobs are going to be gone by the time the summer starts because everybody’s going to be looking. I’m trying to get a head start,” he said.

The tight job market has made life a little easier for Jonathan Malekzadeh, owner of Malek’s Pizza Palace. “We put an ad on Craigslist, and we had such an unbelievable amount of responses, probably about 100,” he said.

“A lot of college students, like students from William and Mary, have already e-mailed me saying they are ready to work when they get back, which is pretty early,” he said.

“I’m looking at resumes from people who are overqualified, people with college degrees. On a lot of applications, they put ‘laid off’ under the reason for leaving,” Mr. Malekzadeh said.

His employees are hanging on to their jobs longer, too, he added.

“Turnover has been so much less. We’re fortunate,” he said. “Training is a lot of work, and looking through applications is a lot of work.”

High school guidance counselors are aware that adults are now competing with teens for low-paying jobs.

“We have parents, some who have worked for the same company for 23 years, who have lost their jobs and their kids are going to college,” said Sister Helen McCullouch, director of college counseling and guidance at Archbishop Carroll High School in the District.

“These folks are willing to work at Wal-Mart or Home Depot or T.J. Maxx,” she said.

Twenty-nine percent of hiring managers said that youths’ greatest competition for a seasonal job is coming from workers who recently entered the summer work force because of economic pressures, according to a March survey of more than 1,000 hiring managers conducted by SnagAJob.com. That’s up from 20 percent last year.

SnagAJob, a search site for hourly jobs, also cites Labor Department data that show the number of people working part time for economic reasons (involuntary part-time workers) climbed by 423,000 to 9 million in March.

“We’d be leading teens astray if we told them anything other than the fact that it will be a very tough summer for high school and college students to find seasonal jobs,” said Shawn Boyer, chief executive officer of SnagAJob.

“The reality is that this recession hasn’t hit rock bottom, and more and more people are out of work each month, which is going to increase pressure on the summer job market,” Mr. Boyer said.

More students than usual will be looking for part-time work this summer, said Cathy McCarthy, senior vice president of marketing for SnagAJob.

“There are now more students being asked to contribute to household bills, and to fund their own spending money. There is more pressure to get a job.”

Students who are fortunate enough to find a job may find paydays a little more lucrative this year, since the minimum wage is scheduled to increase in July nationwide from $6.55 to $7.25.

At least one area employer is hiring more summer workers than last year.

Six Flags, operator of the Six Flags America theme park in Upper Marlboro, Md., has hired about 200 more workers than last summer, said spokeswoman Julia Filz.

“We had really, honestly, record crowds” at the park’s job fair in late February, she said. “We talked to a great number of folks, hired a lot of people.”

The park hired summer employees for positions such as lifeguard, groundskeeper and ride operator and in areas such as cleaning, retail and admissions.

Even college graduates are finding the job market hard to crack.

Adam McDaniel, 23, a George Mason University criminal justice major from Ashburn, Va., said he will be looking for temporary work this summer because he heard there is stiff competition for federal jobs.

“The FBI says it is hiring, but they’re getting a lot of applications,” he said as he prepared for a career workshop at the university’s Fairfax campus.

“Once I graduate, I will look at places around where I live and search for temporary jobs. At the same time, I will send out my resumes and look for career jobs. It’s not something I wanted to do.”

Mr. McDaniel said he is willing to work at restaurants, Home Depot, “pretty much anything.”

Classmate Cheryl Jones, 21, of Fairfax, said she is glad she still has her job as a substitute preschool teacher that she has held for a year.

“I’ve been to networking events, job fairs; I didn’t really find that much there,” the graphic design major said. “I might need an administrative [assistant] position” to help pay for a veterinary technician degree.

Some employers tell her, “‘I’m sorry, all we have is unpaid internships,’” Miss Jones said. “Right now I can’t afford doing an unpaid internship.”

Janice Sutera, director of University Career Services at GMU, noted that a growing number of student job seekers are driven by immediate economic need.

A majority of sophomores in residence at the university reported they were working to provide financial support to their families, Ms. Sutera said.

But unpaid labor is good for cash-strapped employers if they can get it, said Maura Kulkin, senior area vice president of Randstad USA, a recruitment agency.

“Employers will jump at the chance to hire somebody to do their job free or cheap,” she said.

Job seekers should not give up hope, employment counselors say. But they will have to change job-hunting strategies and, as always, network, network, network.

“Eighty-five percent of the people get their jobs through networking,” said Ralph E. Lattanzio, who teaches the career workshop at GMU.

“Clearly there are jobs, especially in this region,” given the presence of the federal government, Ms. Sutera said. “You have to sell yourself and find openings.”

First, Ms. Sutera and others said, students can’t wait for jobs to be advertised, as employers are cutting back there.

“Some employers can’t process all the applications they receive for entry-level jobs,” she said. “There’s a hidden job market among companies that aren’t advertising widely. Some companies advertise more judiciously, primarily through their Web site or professional associations.”

Further, most workers are hired by smaller companies that don’t advertise as much as larger ones, Ms. Sutera said.

Marva Gumbs-Jennings, executive director of the George Washington University Career Center, said job seekers should not limit their search to online job boards.

“I do think there are opportunities out there. They are not as actively posted as they once were,” she said, adding that while the overall unemployment rate rose to 8.5 percent in March, the rate for college graduates is just 4.3 percent.

“The hard part for students is to find out where those opportunities are,” Ms. Gumbs-Jennings said.

“It’s much more tangible and concrete to sit at a computer on Google and look at the job boards than it is to develop a plan to network and find the hidden job market.”

Then there’s the critical piece of advice from adults that young people often roll their eyes at: Keep a positive attitude.

SnagAJob.com’s survey of hiring managers showed that a positive attitude was the most sought-after quality in an employee, followed by a willingness to be flexible and previous experience.

“Cast your net wide, go online and ask for opportunities,” said SnagAJob.com’s Ms. McCarthy. “This is not the year to be picky about your job choices. Be open to any and all possibilities.”

Andrea Tomer contributed to this report.

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