Having a summer job used to be a quintessential part of the student experience. But more young people are forgoing scooping ice cream or mowing lawns in favor of taking on internships and apprenticeships — often unpaid — to prepare for their long-term career goals.
As a result, some seasonal positions that have long relied on the work of high-school and college students home during the summer are struggling to find workers.
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that nationwide, the number of working teenagers sees a spike in the summer months and peak in July, but those numbers as a whole are going down. Per the BLS, in July 2006, there were an estimated 7,494 teens working. A decade later in July 2016, that number dropped to 6,040.
While definitive data about the number of internships taken by students each year are not reported by the BLS, the popularity of these internships is demonstrated by the emphasis that high schools, universities and even the Indiana Department of Education have placed on “work-based” experiences. With many internships, especially during school breaks, accounting for approximately six to eight hours of an intern’s day, students are opting for these experiences over working more traditional summer jobs.
At the Parks and Recreation Department in Fort Wayne, landscape supervisor Eric Ummel advised Business Weekly that he usually had a team of 15 summer employees, primarily consisting of teens and young adults. This year, he said that he has had no students apply and he wasn’t sure if he would be able to find 15 seasonal workers.
“I can’t stress enough how important (student workers) are,” Ummel said. “They really are our backbone…when we don’t have them, it really puts us in a pinch for trying to maintain the parks. I’m worried it’s going to cause us to get not as many projects done.”
Having worked for a private contractor, Heartland Restoration, before his role at the parks department, Ummel said that he has seen firsthand the gradual drop in student workers described by the BLS. He attributed some of the decrease to the current economic state and low unemployment rates, but admitted that even when putting those factors into the equation, numbers are still notably low.
“It’s been a steady decrease,” he said. “I’m not sure where the college students are going, but overall we are seeing it all of our area right now. We are very actively looking for any and every one.”
The decrease in numbers is not from their lack of trying. In an effort to attract more seasonal workers, Ummel has emailed the job posting to every university in the state as well as utilized social media to connect with potential workers. As of late, these attempts have come up fruitless.
Local ice cream shops like the Stand in Fort Wayne seem to have less difficulty staffing their summer teams. The Stand general manager Ryan Palmer attributed this to loyalty, noting that many of his summer workers are students who started working there during high school.
“The college students (are especially important) because they’ve usually been with me for three or four years,” Palmer said. “I think overall they really enjoy working here, and everybody for the most part knows each other and likes each other.”
Palmer added that he realizes that high school and college are particularly busy and important times for students preparing for a career.
In response, he tries to be as flexible as possible with his employees to make sure they are able to balance multiple responsibilities at once.
“The main thing is I work around their schedules,” Palmer said. “We’re really flexible with scheduling. Usually when they can’t work a certain day I can give them the day off.”