Summer job outlook Summer job outlook on the upswing for teens, but still not at pre-recession levels

Peyton Wilson who attends James Island Charter High School, trains at Folly Beach to become an Ocean Rescue Lifeguard for Charleston County parks.

It used to be pretty easy for teens to land summer jobs.

They walked into fast food joints, retail stores and car washes and asked for an application, which they filled out by hand. A few even landed coveted posts at the record store, pet store or pool.

It’s more difficult for teens to find a summer job today, especially lower-income and minority youth, studies show. But the national employment consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., in Chicago predicts a better year for summer job seekers, largely due to an improving economy that’s pulling older workers up and out of jobs traditionally held by teens.

That doesn’t mean the job search will be easy, said Andy Challenger, the group’s vice president for business development. It’s still a competitive market, he said. “It’s not 2005.”

But the teen employment scene likely is on the upswing. Last July, the peak employment month for teens, some 50,000 more jobs were filled nationally by 16- to 19-year-olds, adding to the 5.5 million reported in 2013, according to the firm.

And in March of this year, when teens still are in school, 4.5 million teens were employed. That’s the highest March employment level for that age group since 2009. A high employment level in March bodes well for the 2015 summer jobs season, he said. But, minority youth on average land fewer summer jobs than their white counterparts, which is true for job-seekers of all age groups, Challenger said.

Several other recent studies also found that low-income and minority youth have much lower employment rates. Reasons for the disparity include lack of transportation and limited exposure to job and networking opportunities.

Locally, the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce and the city of Charleston now are working on a campaign to encourage local businesses to provide summer jobs for area youth. The most recent Census Bureau estimates indicate there are more than 35,000 teens ages 16 through 19 living in the tri-county Charleston Metro area. Nearly half of them live in Charleston County.

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, first mentioned a challenge for local businesses to come up with 1,000 summer jobs in his final State of the City address in January. Riley said the effort was a partnership between the city, the Chamber and local school districts. “For a teenager, a summer job not only often provides much needed income for college and their families, but lifetime beneficial experiences are gained in the workplace and the students make a great contribution to the organization for which they are working.”

But Riley and the Chamber started the campaign only last week, six weeks before school lets out, and nobody is keeping track of how many jobs are created.

Laura Bright, the Chamber’s vice president of marketing, said her organization agreed to “push out a call to action.” It has placed information about the challenge on its website and is including it in its weekly email newsletter, which reaches 8,000 business people.

The mayor had asked the Chamber to help him get the word out, and the Chamber is going to do that. “Now that the economy is doing well it’s even more important,” Bright said.

She also said the Chamber is staying in touch with the Charleston County School District hoping the groups’ can enhance each other’s efforts. It also has reached out to the Berkeley and Dorchester District 2 schools. All three school districts have programs that help students learn about and land summer jobs.

One of those programs, the Charleston schools’ work-based learning program, helped St. Johns High School sophomore LaJayce Ford land the summer job of his dreams.

Ford, 17, already knows he wants a career in carpentry when he gets out of high school, and his summer job at JMO Woodworks on Romney Street, Charleston will bring him closer to his goal.

Ford, who lives on Wadmalaw Island, said his mother is willing to drive him to his job the first part of the summer, but he expects to get his driver’s license and can drive himself after that. “I am very thankful,” Ford said. “This is what I want to do in life.”

Chad Vail, work-based learning partnership coordinator, helped Ford land the job. And he said he will work with students from any of the district’s high schools to find the right job or internship. He wants them to find opportunities that not only help them earn money about also teach them general job skills and help them achieve personal goals.

Some students also find jobs through friends or learn about them through extracurricular activities, such as most of the ocean rescue lifeguards at Charleston County’s three beach parks, said Kristen Allen, the assistant manager at Folly Beach County Park.

The county’s Park & Recreation Commission hires 65 to 70 lifeguards each summer, Allen said, and about 60 percent of them are high school students. But the job isn’t for everybody.

Students must pass physical fitness tests before they’re hired, and they must participate in 40 hours of lifeguard training and another 40 hours of emergency medical responder training.

But they earn a starting salary of $11.70 per hour, well above the minimum wage of $7.25.

Vail said his program works for most students. The biggest challenge for some is transportation, especially students who live in more rural areas, such as McClellanville and Hollywood.

He encourages students to think seriously about what they want to do, then helps them explore ways to do it. “I like to see students take a leadership role,” he said.

He also said many employers will create a job for the right young person who is excited about a particular line of work. “There’s nothing more flattering to a professional than a young person asking them what they do.”

Reach Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter at @dianeknich. Repoter David Slade contributed to this report.