Spokane Journal of Business

Summer job market warms

Most seasonal work for students said to be in recreation sector

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-—Treva Lind
Lewis & Clark High School student Abby Marshall works the front gate during a recent Spokane Indians game. The baseball club hired 330 seasonal workers this summer.

Squeezing in a summer job before college starts, MacKenzie Lloyd describes herself as fortunate to land employment at Spokane Indians baseball games.

Lloyd, 18, holds a position in the baseball club’s Kids Zone, supervising children’s play. By Aug. 10, the Ferris High School graduate heads to the University of Idaho.

“This is the only job I applied for, and I got it,” Lloyd says. “I was really lucky, and I got a good job, too. Some of my friends didn’t get jobs.”

Tyler Stuber, 19, faced more of a challenge finding summer work after returning home to Spokane Valley in mid-June from Western Washington University. He applied to at least 10 employers, mostly in retail and customer service, before landing a job July 6 with Fred Meyer Stores.

“The big issue for me was finding a place that wanted to hire seasonal workers,” Stuber says. “A lot of places I looked at wanted someone for at least a year.”

This summer, high school-aged and young-adult applicants in Spokane County experienced an overall better jobs outlook than in recent years, according to Doug Tweedy, Spokane-based regional economist for the Washington state Employment Security Department. 

Tweedy says the agency expects a gain of 700 seasonal jobs this year over last summer in such traditional categories as agriculture and leisure. Larger employers are doing most of the hiring of youth, Tweedy says, including job gains in typical sectors such as recreation, but also more so in health services, transportation-warehousing, and manufacturing.

“The trend is more and more baby boomers are starting to retire, so employers are now looking at youth to help develop the job pipeline,” Tweedy says. “They’re more receptive than they’ve ever been to hiring some youth for the summer.”

Nationally, job prospects for youth appear more sluggish. The Kiplinger Letter, which provides weekly forecasts for business executives and investors, describes U.S. seasonal job hunting as tougher this year for teens and college kids because of the softer pace of economic growth and retail store closures. 

Spokane saw Macy’s recent downtown closure, but nearby River Park Square has had a greater need this summer for seasonal workers in food service and movie theater positions. Those workers tend to be college-aged students, says Bryn West, the mall’s general manager.

However, the mall’s retail stores more often retain their employees year-round, so those shops aren’t seeing the same turnover for summer jobs, West adds.

“We find that the largest job need is definitely in our food service, quick-service restaurants,” West says. “Many college students are in those positions during the school year here in Spokane, and then they leave to go home or graduate.”

She adds, “We get a lot of people through Indeed and Craigslist. I’d say keep applying.”

Karin Fowler, co-owner of seven Zip’s Drive-In restaurants in Idaho and Spokane areas, echoes that youth hiring ramps up in summers when eateries are busier. “High school kids tend to stay with us into the school year,” she says.

However, she adds that it’s easier to hire youth in Idaho, where the minimum wage is lower. 

Tweedy says fewer retail opportunities are offset in part by more recreational employment. 

“Overall, the jobs for youth have increased,” says Tweedy, including lifeguard and golf course positions. “Those are starting to increase in the last couple of summers.”

Doug Chase, Spokane County parks and recreation director, concurs, saying lifeguards especially are in demand.

“We have had a more difficult time hiring lifeguards this year, and we’re still trying to hire another five lifeguards to meet our needs,” says Chase, referring to the status as of late June. The county hires about 70 lifeguards for its two aquatic centers and Liberty Lake Regional Park. 

Lifeguard ap-plications came in, he says, but many job seekers were hired away.

Chase adds, “If your article is about youth looking for jobs, some great advice is, obtain your lifeguard certification. I can almost guarantee you’ll be able to find employment. We’ve had people apply, and before we can process, they’ve been hired up elsewhere.”

The city of Spokane Valley contracts with Valley YMCA to manage its outdoor pools. This summer, a typical 65 pool employees were hired for the three outdoor pools and the Valley YMCA facility, a majority as lifeguards between ages 15 and 20, says Emily Potter-Smith, YMCA Spokane Valley aquatics director. She says the organization had sufficient applications. 

The city of Spokane, meanwhile, hires between 130 to 150 employees each summer for its six aquatics centers, and 70 to 80 percent are lifeguards as opposed to cashiers or other positions.

Regionally, other city and county summer programs typically hire youth for a bulk of the available positions. The Valley city reports it hires for 35 part-time seasonal positions, many for CenterPlace Regional Event Center, and roughly 60 percent are ages 16 to 26. 

The county parks department employs more than 150 seasonally, and Chase says a majority in summer jobs are teens to young adults. Other than lifeguards, they include 35 to 40 for concessions-cashiers, 15 to 20 in operations and maintenance, and about 25 for golf. 

For 148 city of Spokane positions at Riverfront Park, the site’s assistant director Jeff Bailey says he’s noticed fewer older adults applying for summer jobs traditionally held in the past by teens and college-aged people. That differs from recession years.

“When the recession hit, we were seeing a lot of older adults who were either out of work or financially affected by the recession applying,” Bailey says. “With the economy improving, we’re seeing less of that.”

Of the current park employees, Bailey says, about 40 percent are high school students, and another 40 percent are in Running Start programs or college. 

“The rest are adults and seniors,” he says. 

Two other recreational Inland Northwest employers, the Spokane Indians and the Silverwood Theme Park, traditionally employ large numbers of teens and college students each summer.

Otto Klein, Spokane Indians senior vice president, says the baseball club typically hires for 300 game-day positions, with about 150 open each summer because roughly half prior-year employees return. This year, game positons grew to 330 with hiring of cleaning crews.

“I’d say we are known for providing quality jobs in that age group, from 16- to 22-year-olds, so a lot of first jobs are started here at the stadium,” Klein says. “We have very detailed customer service training, which helps them their entire career.”

The Spokane Indians’ tradition of hiring many young workers fits both the age groups’ summer availability and the club’s work culture, Klein says. Some jobs include section leaders, concessions, security, and ground maintenance.

Klein adds, “We hire young, enthusiastic, capable employees in the summertime, and there are a lot of them in this age group, so it’s worked really well for us.”

The club holds a spring online job fair but tends to continue interviewing later for backups, Klein says. Some employees need to be over 21 to work where alcohol is served or for money-handling, but high school students fill many roles.

Abby Marshall, 16, a Lewis and Clark student, is a ticket taker and greeter. “It’s a great summer job because you know your schedule right off the bat,” she says.

Meanwhile, Silverwood, located about 20 miles north of Coeur d’Alene, hires about 1,400 seasonal employees, drawn from both Idaho and the Spokane area, says Julie Trumble, a human resources representative. She estimates about 60 percent are high school students and early 20s-aged people.

“We start hiring at age 14, 15, who have limited positions as well as hours,” Trumble says. 

Silverwood jobs include food servers, ride operators, lifeguards, game attendants, grounds maintenance, and housekeeping. Many young workers return annually, says Silverwood spokesman Mark Robitaille. 

“We do offer an excellent training program that I think instills a sense of confidence in young people,” Robitaille says.

For Scarywood, the park usually hires people age 18 and over, with a significant number being actors. Silverwood often taps college students and their theater groups.

Other groups work to draw youth back for subsequent summers. The county starts interviewing return candidates as early as December if they’re home on break, Chase says. Retention usually occurs, for at least three or four years. 

“We like to send letters out to welcome people who are working for us now and invite them back for the next summer,” Chase says.

Treva Lind
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