As many local businesses continue to suffer due to a lack of workers, there are more opportunities than ever for teenagers seeking summer employment as well as recent graduates who are about to enter the workforce full-time. During the height of the covid-19 pandemic two years ago, many teens were unable to find work, but that doesn’t appear to be the case in 2022.
“Today’s teens have a plethora of opportunities to enter the workforce in a wide array of industries,” said Christina Brooks, senior director of NextGen Programs and Special Projects for the Hampton Roads Workforce Council.
“Every industry in our region is looking to expand their talent base right now,” Brooks said. “For industries that haven’t historically hired teens, we are seeing an increased interest in creating paid internships that lead to permanent employment opportunities once the teens graduate from school.”
Nikiesha Virgil, program coordinator for the Youth Workforce Center at New Horizons Regional Education Centers in Newport News, agreed.
“Teens and young adults are benefitting from a ‘covid economy,’” Virgil said. “Employers are still struggling to fill positions and are hiring more teens amid the labor shortage. They are aggressively recruiting through job fairs, referral programs, and social media. Employers are making hiring decisions more quickly and young people are benefitting from this reduction in time. Employers are also offering higher wages, flexible schedules, signing bonuses, and other perks. In addition, employers are more willing to hire candidates with less experience and provide the technical training necessary for them to excel in their positions.”
This spring, 2nd Street an American Bistro in Williamsburg set up recruitment booths in local high schools in search of potential workers. 2nd Street’s general manger, Kimberly Alderman, has been with the restaurant for nearly 20 years and said 2nd Street often hires teens for employment as hosts, bussers, food runners, cashiers, and other positions.
“Teens have always been a big part of our program,” she said. “We can offer them access to employment, experience in working with others and in a professional atmosphere, and it allows us to help develop active, productive members of our community.”
Traditionally, teens have been hired locally for summer employment as camp counselors, babysitters, lifeguards or swim instructors, retail workers, waiters, fast-food worker, move theatre employees, or amusement park employees. Most businesses hire at 16 or older, though some are taking workers as young 14 or 15 to fill positions.
“Due to their lack of technical training, teens are still filling positions largely in the retail, service, and restaurant industry,” said Virgil. “However young adults with more technical training and experience are attracted to jobs that provide competitive, high wages and benefits, and opportunities to utilize their technical skills. We have also seen an increase in young people interested in starting their own online business.”
More recently, teens are also being hired in other fields than the typical summer employment positions.
Brooks added, “We’re also seeing industries such as ship repair, manufacturing, finance, and healthcare develop new strategies to employ teens while still in high school…. Industries are also getting creative with training opportunities and how they attract teens in the job market. Many employers are offering hiring incentives and free training for younger employees who are just joining the workforce.”
The increase in Virginia’s minimum wage, which is now $11 an hour, and those businesses offering higher wages mean teens can also be more choosey when it comes to where they want to work based on pay.
“Economists argue that an increase in the minimum wage adversely affects employment opportunities for young people,” Virgil said. “We find that young people are being more selective in the types of positions they accept given that wages are competitive.”
For most teens, summer employment isn’t be just about making money. It’s about getting their feet wet in the workforce.
“Equally as important, experience in the food service industry truly offers real world life lessons that allow young teens to be better equipped to handle life’s unexpected opportunities,” said Alderman. “The food service industry is multifaceted, and teaches an array of life lessons and skill sets, such as meeting and engaging new people, working with others, treating others with respect, including during more problematic situations, and handling stress with success, all while earning money and understanding their contributions to the community.”
Teens who are seeking employment are encouraged to do their research in order to find the right fit for them.
“Check out the different types of jobs that are available,” Virgil said. “Tap into your network to find jobs that would add valuable skills and experiences that you can use to advance into your next position.”