Despite retail job loss, teen employment making a comeback

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Despite retail job loss, teen employment making a comeback

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Kate Harvey, 16, serves an ice cream cone during her shift at Twist Ice Cream Company Wednesday, May 31 on Bethany Road in Liberty Twp. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

The changing retail industry could make it tough for teen workers to find traditional job opportunities, but more teens are finding new ways to make money after a recent lull in youth employment.

The summer job — flipping hamburgers or working as the cashier at a local mall — is no longer a rite of passage for many teens. However, teen employment for the summer is improving lightly after a decrease in employment both locally and nationwide in recent years, a trend that started back in the 1990s.

Only about a third of teens are looking to work, according to U.S. Department of Labor data, but the summer season could help boost youth employment. As many as 6 million teens could work this summer, which is significantly less than the 10 million teens that were working back in 1978.

Employment will most likely look different for teens in coming years, shifting away from some of the traditional industries typically dominated by young workers.

“Teenagers will still have many opportunities, but they will not necessarily be in traditional retail stores,” said John Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, which analyzes employment data.

A report from the Challenger, Gray & Christmas found that industries that traditionally cater to teen workers are scaling back, meaning teens might have to look in unusual places for employment. Retailers already cut more than 34,000 jobs in the first two months of the year.

“If retailers do decide to beef up hiring, it will likely be later in the summer for the back-to-school season leading up to the winter holiday season,” Challenger said. “In the meantime, teens who want summer employment should look in non-traditional areas and tap into older, employed contacts to seek out possible positions.”

Melissa O’Brien, business services manager for OhioMeansJobs-Butler County, said the retail cuts will definitely affect younger workers. She said the region has a serious workforce issue, and preparing teens for work in industries like manufacturing, healthcare and typical office jobs is one major way to fill the pipeline with skilled workers.

“Giving teens hands on knowledge will benefit them greatly in their feature,” O’Brien said. “Being able to put on their resume they held a summer job or a part time job in the industry gives them the upper hand when it comes time to interview. It can also help to network, and perhaps provide useful links to possible work in the future. Employers are looking for candidates with experience.”

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O’Brien said it is “very important” for teens to have experience in the industry they are pursing.

“The knowledge and hands on skills they will gain will be valuable to them as they purse secondary education, be it college or trade school,” she said. “Teens will also be able to learn soft skills like interpersonal communication, the ability to speak and write correctly and present ideas clearly, these are areas that employers say are lacking in the youth today. It’s important to think and explore about what you like to do. You want to wake up in the morning and look forward to going to work.”

In 2016, only a little over half of all teens were employed in July and unemployment among youth rose by 611,000 from April to July, compared to the increase of 654,000 for the same period in 2015, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The youth unemployment rate — 11.5 percent — and the number of unemployed youth — 2.6 million — in July 2016 did not change much from the previous year. Of the 2.6 million unemployed 16 to 24 years old, about 1.9 million were looking for work in July 2016.

Jason Harter, owner of Twist Ice Cream Company on Bethany Road in Liberty Twp., said a majority of his 14 employees for the summer are in high school and college and it attracts workers from Butler and Warren counties.

Harter said first jobs help teens develop a work ethic, take on more responsibility and learn in an environment where they can make mistakes without feeling the full repercussions they would in a “real world” job.

“Working for small businesses or family-owned type businesses, I think you get a little bit more grace than there is in some of the corporate America places,” Harter said.

While some teen employees start work at Twist Ice Cream as high school sophomores and stay until their junior year of college, an increasing majority of students who apply for a position say they aren’t able to fully commit to a job there because of sporting teams, internships or community service.

“A lot of the kids don’t have to work and some of the parents have pretty elaborate vacation schedules through the summer season and, for us, it doesn’t make sense to hire a kid that’s going to take two or three weeks of summer vacation because their summer break is pretty short to begin with,” Harter said. “We just have to be cautious on how we hire because we need to make sure we’re getting people that are going to be here. That’s not always easy to figure out.”

Some employers also think competition is impacting the number of teens they’re able to hire during the summer months. On top of community service and internship opportunities, teens simply have more options employment options to choose from.

Kings Island Amusement & Water Park had approximately 4,200 jobs open for the 2017 season, and the park is still looking to hire in all areas of park operation. Approximately 65 percent of the park’s employees are teens, according to Don Helbig, spokesman for Kings Island.

“There are a lot more job opportunities available for teens within 30 miles of the park than there was five years ago, and that makes it more challenging every year,” he said.

Ashton Weber, who is heading into her high school senior year, started off at Twist Ice Cream Company three seasons ago and was tasked to make ice cream. Now, three summers later, the 17 year old also works the cash register, handles shipments and supervises younger employees when necessary.

Working 35 to 40 hours a week during the summer and 25 hours during the start and end of the school year has been “really helpful” to be able to do some things on her own without having to ask her parents for money, Weber said.

“It’s also good with responsibilities I’ve been able to have,” she said. “It really helps with leadership skills, especially because I’m interested in going into a field where I will need to take charge of things. It’s also helped me learn how to do basic things, like managing a bank account and looking at finances, like how much am I spending this month on whatever.”

“I’ve seen a big difference in myself from when I was 15 until now,” she said.

Noah Cook said working at Twist Ice Cream Company for three seasons has helped him develop time management, team-building and leadership skills that will be valuable as he heads to college this fall.

“When I first started working here, I wasn’t a very good leader. I was very shy,” Cook said. “As I’ve … transitioned into a manager position, it really taught me skills on how to be a leader.”

Kate Harvey, 16, said she started working at Twist Ice Cream Company during the school year and plans to work there for the next couple of years until college.

“Since it was my first job, it’s taught me everything I know about jobs,” Harvey said. “It’s definitely helped me a lot with time management skills because I was really bad with those at first and it taught me to be on time or at least 10 minutes early to every shift so I’m ready and prepared.”

Staff Writer Nick Graham contributed to this story.

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