Joy Gaasch, president of the local Chamber of Commerce, said that being a tourist community, Northwest Ottawa County is loaded with summer job opportunities for youngsters.
“Anybody in the hospitality industry typically hires teens,” she said. “Ice cream stores (and) retail stores all hire teens for the summer. Interns, both high school and college, are also employed with a stipend or hourly pay. We actually have three interns, and the visitors bureau has three, as well. Most manufacturers also hire interns.”
Collin Layson, a 2017 Spring Lake High School graduate who now attends Muskegon Community College, went to a lot of different places looking for a job last summer. He landed one at Sweet Temptations. He works 30-40 hours during the summer, and when school is in session, he takes classes in the morning and works at night.
“I'm studying business, and working here has helped a lot,” Layson said. “There are some things they teach us in college that I already understand because of working here, like money management and filling out check deposits.”
Layson said he's relieved he doesn't have to job hunt again this summer.
“Last year, I got serious hunting for a job for about a month,” he said. “I filled out applications at like eight or 10 different places, whoever was hiring.”
Layson said his advice for teens seeking a job this summer is to fill out as many applications as you can and try to network.
“Get your name out there and eventually someone will call you back,” he said.
Kelly Larson, owner of Sweet Temptations, said Layson and other young people get valuable life and work experience with summer jobs. Larson — who also owns the Front Porch, Skoops, Temptations and Fortino's — employs about 75 teenagers every summer.
“We're so grateful because it seems people want to work for us,” she said. “We're a more fun kind of a job for a teenager. It's a great first job. Our goal is to keep the teenagers who come work for us all the way through college, if possible. The last five or 10 years, we've tended to lose some of them when they get into college because there's pressure on them to find internships in the real world rather than scooping ice cream in an ice cream store.”
U.S. Department of Labor statistics show the youth summer workforce — ages 16-24 — has been declining for more than three decades. From its peak of 77.5 percent in July 1989, the percentage of teens working slid to 60.6 percent last July. Only four in 10 teens were in the workforce last summer, compared with seven out of 10 in 1978.
The labor department's research shows that the decline is due to more students taking internships or seeking volunteer experiences to augment their college applications, busy extracurricular activity schedules and, in some cases, a lack of available hourly jobs in their community.
John Coughenour, a guidance counselor at Spring Lake High School, said jobs seem plentiful in our area and local teens seem eager to fill them.
“I talk to lots and lots of kids,” he said. “Most of them talk about either getting a job or wanting or needing to get a job this summer.”
Some want to pay for car insurance or earn extra cash. Others want work experience on their resume. Some are already thinking of advancement.
“I talked to a young man yesterday who has a job but is thinking about prospects for a new and better job,” Coughenour said. “I think they see it as being in the 'real world.' If they're not going to school, then they need to get a job. It's what young adults do.”
As the varsity track coach at SLHS, Coughenour said he sees more kids leaning toward employment obligations than sports obligations. Many times, athletes say they have to miss a track meet because of work.
“I think more kids work during sports seasons than ever,” he said.
Although he doesn't have definitive data on it, Coughenour said he senses there are more available jobs than five years ago.
“Employers come to us,” he said. “There's been an increase in demand. We post jobs and make students aware of them. And more kids in the last three or four weeks have come into the guidance office to get a work permit. A lot more.”
Larson said it's a competitive market. She pays more than minimum wage to attract young employees. She also hires early for summer jobs — in February and March.
“We kind of get a jump on that, but I'm still getting applications,” she said. “I'm grateful because the quality of the teenagers we have working for us is great.”
When deciding on young employees, Larson said she looks at a student’s grades and their involvement in other activities such as sports.
Larson got her business start while in high school, picking blueberries and sanding boats at Barrett Boat Works. She started working for Temptations, an ice cream shop she now owns, at age 15.
She said the experience of working is invaluable for teens.
“The real-world things they learn in terms of handling customers, being responsible for their schedules — they have to learn how to work,” Larson said. “It helps them on their college applications and getting those internships because they can prove they know how to work.”
Sharon Behm, owner of Borr's Shoes and Accessories in downtown Grand Haven, said she hires students not just for the summer, but also for Saturday work year-round. She said several of her teen employees have gone on to successful careers — one works for the Federal Reserve, another became a district manager for Glik's and now owns her own business in Holland, and yet another became an attorney.
“This sets a good foundation for them,” Behm said.
Because of the many other obligations teens tend to have, Behm gives them their work schedule for the entire summer.
“If they need to trade, it gives us time to find somebody,” she said. “Or, if they have another part-time job, they can coordinate schedules. I think that's why when we get the high school kids, they stay with us, usually until they graduate from college.”
Behm said Borr’s current student employee, Spring Lake High School junior Cameron Parsons, is learning many valuable work skills, including patience.
“Cameron started when he was 15,” Behm said. “... He will bring out 15 pairs of shoes for a lady and never lose his cool. He's just got that smile on his face like, 'I've got a job and I'm going to go get this.' After all that, when the lady says, 'I'm going to think about it,' he doesn't lose it. Of course, the ladies love him because he is so nice. He's so polite.”
Behm said the work experience and lessons in customer service should take him far.
“I tell him, 'Cameron, you have no idea where this is going to lead to,'” she said.