Employers look to teen workers in summertime

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— With the stranglehold the labor market has on area employers, it was no wonder they turned out for a business roundtable luncheon on Wednesday to gather information on state labor standards for hiring student summer employees -- students who will keep businesses in business.

Steamboat's Workforce Center is gearing up for the tourist season and employers' need for employees. The center is encouraging employers to turn to students to fill the void in seasonal positions.

"I was very pleased with the turnout today," said Carel Nickey, Workforce Center marketing representative. "The broad spectrum of employers attending the meeting shows us that we have a lot of businesses that are going to need to hire students this summer. I hope this helped employers know the guidelines of using students."

John Thrasher, human resources director for the city of Steamboat Springs, said attending the roundtable was worthwhile.

"We hire teens to work in the city's parks. I wanted to make sure we were following all the laws and we are. The laws seem to change almost every day and we need to keep up to speed," he said.

Although labor laws are important to Thrasher, he said he is concerned with the wages it will require this summer to keep students working for the city. The national minimum wage is $5.15; the city, like most area employers, is far above that rate.

"We've had to raise our rate of pay to compete with the other businesses that hire students in the summertime. Our entry-level park crews are making $8.90 per hour and we probably need to be closer to $10 per hour to be competitive."

Michelle Petix is the director of the Community Youth Corps. She said she has 50 positions open for the summer, and none of them have been filled.

"We're advertising now and I'm mildly concerned about the number of openings, but we've been so successful in the past that I'm not that worried," she said. "We increased our pay to $6.04 per hour to try to be more competitive."

The city's reputation for having a quality program that provides working skills as well as socialization skills is what Thrasher believes will fill the open positions before summer.

Petix said she hires students ages 14 and 15 for the youth corps program and that she believes a summer working experience is more than a paycheck for the children.

"The kids will tell you they work for the money. I think idle hands are hands that are going to get into trouble," Petix said. "This program gives kids a sense of community pride. It combines the resources of the natural environment with our youth and that is such a good thing."

Petix is also hiring students to work at the Underground under-21 club and the Dock Teen Center.

"We have programs for kids at these two places as well as youth corps," she said. "Teens ages 14 to 20 can make $7.43 per hour. Unfortunately, we've been advertising and haven't had any response."

Routt County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said she will be encouraging business owners to hire teens throughout the county this summer. She thinks that, as summer approaches, businesses looking for student employees will see a greater response to their advertisements.

Although it's important to give students the opportunity to earn money, Stahoviak said the work experience goes beyond that.

"I encourage businesses to hire teens. It establishes a sense of work ethic in our youth," she said. "It's a big issue, the lack of work ethic in the younger generation. They need to learn commitment and desire to take pride in their work."

The Routt County Building Department is looking for a summer student employee and the position pays $7 per hour. Stahoviak is concerned that with such high-paying jobs for teens, students may not be as committed to doing a good job.

"We've seen that with the work force shortage, it's forcing employers to pay more for student positions," she said. "I hope that teens don't work at half their skill level because they know they can easily leave one job and go to another that pays more."

Hiring a new employee, regardless of age, is taking a gamble, Thrasher said.

"With kids and adults, you run the gamut. Some want to work and others don't," he said. "That work ethic starts at home and we've had a lot of very dedicated and ambitious kids working for us over the years."

The Workforce Center is open to teens to help them find summer employment, write resumes, perform skills tests and provide interviewing techniques.

"We help students who have very limited skills or no work history," Workforce Center representative Nickey said. "We look at other things they have done like school activities, church or even home skills and try to match those skills up with a summer job that will suit them as well as the employer. We have the resources to connect people to the community."


-- To reach Bryna Larsen call 871-4205 or e-mail blarsen@amigo.net

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