LAPEL — When Lennon Hofer decided to seek his first full-time job, he knew he wanted to find something that would give him experience in the restaurant industry.
With gas prices soaring, something close to home was also a priority.
“Money was a factor, and just (getting) some work experience,” said Hofer, a freshman at Lapel High School, of his decision to spend next summer working at Ice Cream Plus. “I want to get used to all this (work) stuff.”
Hofer and hundreds of other Madison County teens help employers who continue to have trouble finding and keeping reliable help. Amid one of the most worker-centric labor markets in decades, teens — especially those seeking full-time work for the first time — have the luxury of being more selective about experience what many consider a common rite of passage into adulthood.
“In the retail and restaurant industries, everyone is hiring right now,” said Clayton Whitson, president and CEO of the Madison County Chamber of Commerce. “I don’t know if we’ve had a situation like this where people can be so demanding, and you’ve seen a kind of corresponding increase in salaries in many areas to try to be more competitive to fill these positions. vacant. ”
During her third year working at Ice Cream Plus, Shania Smith said the work, coupled with her sophomore extracurricular activities at Lapel High School, kept her schedule well balanced.
“I haven’t really been interested in finding other jobs because I love working here with the people and the staff so much,” Smith said. “We have regular customers who come, and memorizing the orders they have is like the best part of the job – knowing who’s who and being part of a small-town business.”
According to data released last week by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment among workers aged 16 to 19 stood at 10.2%, slightly higher than a 68-year low of 9.6% in May 2021. Nationally, nearly one-third of American teens in this age group are working, according to the BLS.
Analysts haven’t seen numbers like these since before the 2008-09 financial crisis, when adults taking part-time work to make ends meet crowded out their younger counterparts from the market.
This time, some observers point to the ripple effects of the pandemic creating openings for the younger generation that did not exist before.
“Throughout COVID, going back even to March 2020, we have seen a mass exodus of people from the labor market, whether due to early retirement, people falling ill or people choosing to stay at home. for a number of reasons,” Whitson said. . “What you’re seeing now is that the greatest need and flexibility comes with these temp jobs for teens, and they’re being considered to fill vacancies that have been left behind by generations before them.”
Local employers are seeing mixed results in their efforts to recruit teens for the summer. At Ice Cream Plus – where the entire staff of 12 except manager Mark Hart are teenagers – flexibility in hours and generous allowances for tips are touted as significant perks. In fact, says Hart, candidates’ schedules are a key part of their interviews.
“The kids are busy with everything,” he said. “It’s one of the first things I ask kids when they come in (to apply) – what are you involved in?”
In other places, job responsibilities and the work environment often sell themselves to potential employees. At the Crabby Apple Orchard near Pendleton, which opened last weekend, owner Andrew Christiansen – who also owns Ice Cream Plus – said he currently has seven teenagers on staff and plans to add more throughout the summer. Most of the work, including tending a large orchard on the property, mowing grass and harvesting apples, will be done outdoors.
“It’s fun work outside,” Christiansen said. “We have the petting zoo which the children love to deal with. It’s a fairly easy gig. We pay the kids more than minimum wage, and it’s a fun atmosphere. They just like to do it.
To follow Andy Knight on Twitter
or call 765-640-4809.