High school students hunting for summer jobs face challenges

Landing a summer job is a modern-day rite of passage for American teenagers. But, this summer, a sluggish economy and high unemployment may join forces to put that experience out of reach for some Southern Nevada students.

Not that it's going to keep Raybin Dockery from trying.

Dockery, 18, a senior at Advanced Technologies Academy, already has started her summer job search. While it's early in the game -- Dockery said she has submitted about 10 applications so far, with no nibbles yet -- she's already sensing the lay of the land.

"I think it is very competitive right now, because I think a lot of people are looking for jobs and, as high school students, we really don't have that much experience," she said. "And, I feel like people with more experience are probably going to get the jobs before we do."

Generally speaking, younger people -- including high school students with no significant resume -- are at a disadvantage in the job market, said Kelly Henwood, youth system and policy director for Workforce Connections.

Even before the recession, "young people were always hit harder with unemployment and have had difficulty finding jobs, because of the fact that people are staying in the work force longer," Henwood said.

With a statewide unemployment rate hovering around 13 percent, young, first-time workers may find landing a seasonal job particularly difficult.

And here's another hurdle for young job seekers: Henwood said there are more adults in the work force now who are willing to take jobs that were "sort of traditionally thought of as youth jobs."

Eileen McGarry, executive director of University of Nevada, Las Vegas Career Services, noted that the past two years have seen a downturn in the availability of internships and career-related part-time jobs.

"For instance, in 2009 at this time of year, we might have (had) around 175 postings in our job posting system," she said, versus about 150 postings last week.

McGarry estimated that the center is receiving an average of seven calls a week from employers "calling to talk about the kinds of needs they have." That's about the same as last year, she noted, and a sign that, even in tight times, employers want to keep the pipeline of prospective employees open.

Even better is that many of those calls involve internships or part-time positions in such fields as accounting, sales, Web design and food service that, McGarry said, "can launch careers." And, on Wednesday, more than 50 employers are expected to be on campus for UNLV's Internship/Summer Job/Volunteer Fair, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the student union ballroom.

Still, McGarry predicted this summer will be a "challenging" one for young job seekers.

Dockery is looking for her first summer job, and so far has concentrated on clothing retail and supermarket positions.

Landing a job this summer will be particularly significant, because it will help Dockery save for upcoming college expenses.

That, she added, "is very much my (job-hunting) motivation, because scholarship money is not coming through as I expected it to be."

Some traditional teen employers are still in the game. At McDonald's, "we're definitely not cutting back," said Lola Gonzalez, a regional human resources specialist for the restaurant chain. "We're definitely looking for more employees."

And that's not just for summer positions, she added. "We've never stopped looking for part-time employment."

The Las Vegas Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America still has openings for counselors in this year's summer camp program, noted Gary Lewis, the council's activities and marketing director. About 40 Scouts so far have applied for the estimated 80 positions.

However, that number is down five to 10 positions from previous years, Lewis said. The number of counselors needed hinges on the number of campers expected, and Lewis said that number also is down this year.

Scouts who are interested should apply for these jobs soon, Lewis said.

"A lot of people start to come to us in April or May and say: 'Oh, by the way, my kid can't find a job. Can he work at camp?' Then, it's a lot harder to place them."

The Las Vegas Valley Water District expects to hire about 35 students this summer, about the same as last year, said spokeswoman Kristen Howey.

Some positions will go to students who have worked for the district in previous years, she said, and they typically are placed "in areas they are familiar with or an area that's similar to their course of study."

New hires, meanwhile, may work in jobs ranging from ground crew to maintenance to general office assistant, she said.

Clark County Parks and Recreation will again be hiring lifeguards for its summer aquatics program. While staffing levels will remain the same, said Jennifer Lloyd, recreation program supervisor, "we have a lot of returning staff from last year, so we won't be hiring as many new lifeguards as we have in the past."

Earl Falls, executive director of employment operations for MGM Mirage, said the company this year expects to hire about as many lifeguards as it did last year. At summer's peak, Falls expects MGM Mirage to have about 300 lifeguards at work.

But, he added, this year's hiring is being done with a close eye on the state of the economy, and managers are "staggering hiring to make sure they're not bringing on too many people at once."

On the other side of the equation, Falls said, "we are seeing an increase in the percentage of people who are applying for the positions we have." So, he urges applicants to get their applications in early.

However, if a paying job can't be found, students shouldn't dismiss the future value of an unpaid internship or, even, volunteering for a community service program.

"We encourage students to aggressively pursue those kinds of opportunities, because that's often what's going to lead to the next step to really make them marketable on graduation," McGarry said.

On the other hand, never discount serendipity. Tatiana Sisk began looking for a part-time job last summer, between her junior and senior years of high school.

"I wasn't driving then, and my mom and I were going to the mall so I could pick up applications," recalled Sisk, 18, a senior at Sierra Vista High School.

They decided to stop for coffee and drove into a Dunkin' Donuts drive-through. At the time, Sisk already had applied to Dunkin' Donuts online, but had heard nothing back.

Sisk's mom mentioned the application to the restaurant's manager. And, Sisk said, "she looked at me and asked me how old I was."

Long story short: Sisk went in for an interview a day or two later and has been working at that Dunkin' Donuts location ever since.

The moral? Maybe, Sisk said, that, even during a job hunt, "there's no harm in asking."

Contact reporter John Przybys at jprzybys@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0280.