Local teens, business owners talk about finding and keeping employment

Willing to work

timestamp icon
category icon Life

It’s become increasingly difficult to find a job as a teen or young adult, especially if you lack experience.With unemployment in Clark County still high, many young people are competing with adults for jobs that are usually their bread-and-butter: Fast food and customer service positions.

Employers can now afford to be more selective about who they hire, knowing that many of the applicants are seeking the job to support their families, not just for extra spending money.

Morgan McColum, owner of Twilight Pizza Bistro in Camas, said five years ago when her restaurant first opened, she hired mostly teen employees.

“But we had to spend so much time teaching them how to be adults and what is expected on a job, it was tiring,” she said. “Parents need to teach their kids responsibility at home. We’d have to train them even to wash a dish or how to sweep a floor.”

Now, McColum is more selective.

“We’ll hire teens with good references and if they interview well,” she said. “How you present yourself in an interview is very important. It’s so hard to get face time with an employer these days, if you have it, then sell it. Show us what you’ve got.”

Greg Boland, 20, said it is important to network while looking for employment.

He works approximately 75 hours a week at two jobs, Papa’s Ice Cream in Washougal and an assisted living center.

“It’s not always what you know but who you know” he said. “Make sure the employer knows you really want a job, but don’t expect them to remember you. Be persistent and apply in lots of places.”

Lacey Little, 21, of Camas has worked at Papa’s for two years during the summer and breaks from college.

“I like being able to come home and have a place where I can work and see the different customers,” she said.

She recommends that teens or young adults seeking a summer job should “be persistent.”

“You have to keep checking in with the employer,” she said. “You can’t just drop off your resume and leave. Let them get to know you and show interest.”

Ivan Gering, owner of Papa’s, said he hires mostly teens and young adults to work in his business, and understands many of them may not have had formal work experience before.

“The main thing is personality, appearance and a willingness to work,” he said. “Appearance is big. One girl applied for a job in pajamas, and several guys have come in tank tops. One came in without a shirt or shoes.”

He requires the job seekers to come in with a resume that lists all relevant volunteer experience and past jobs, whether it is mowing lawns, baby-sitting or formal work.

“If they have a lot of volunteer experience, it means that they are out there trying,” Gering said.

Many local teens seek work as camp counselors with Camas Parks and Recreation or as lifeguards and pool aides at the Camas Municipal Pool. Kathi Hansen, pool manager and recreation coordinator, said the best part about hiring teens is being able to teach them how to be productive workers.

When interviewing teens, Hansen looks for a properly completed application, accomplishments in school or sports, volunteer work and an ability to problem solve.

“I want to see that they have thought something through and that they won’t have to constantly be told what to do,” she said. “If you want a job, you need to learn to be responsible for yourself and take ownership.”

She also encourages volunteering, whether it’s through the recreation department junior camp counselor program or in the community.

“If you want a job, go and volunteer first,” she said.

Livia Barrett, 15, did just that. Last summer, she was a volunteer pool aide. This year, she’s a paid lifeguard.

“It feels pretty good,” she said. “It gives me something to do, the money is nice and it’s fun.”

Assistant Pool Manager Tanner Boyd is in his sixth year at the Camas pool.

“I feel like I’ve really learned a lot of responsibility here,” he said. “It’s a nice culture. Everyone likes and appreciates the pool a lot.”

He encourages teens who haven’t found a job to keep searching and to volunteer.

“Try to make connections at school and practice interviews,” he said.

Alec Brenan, 15, encourages teens to get out in person and look for work.

“Employers like that,” he said.He got a job at the Camas pool after securing a lawn mowing job for his neighbor, who happened to be Hansen.

“Then, she offered me this job,” he said.

Perry Truong, Danielle Colwell and Brianna Reed are all camp counselors for Camas Parks and Recreation.

It is the first paid job for them. They worked a summer as junior camp counselors to gain experience.

“It’s a great way to get a job with parks and rec,” Colwell, 18, said. “And this is the best job ever, it’s so much fun.”

Reed, 14, enjoys working with the kids and getting out of the house.

“Usually, you just sit around and waste away during the summer,” she said. “Here, you feel like you’re doing something important.”

Truong said there is so much free time during the summer that it is nice to have something to do.

“It’s a really good first job because everyone is so nice and supportive, there are no mean bosses,” he said.

Colwell encouraged teens looking for work to be open.

“Never feel like you’re too good for a job,” she said. “Think of it as good work experience and don’t assume you’re above it.”

Marcie Wilcox, owner of Squeeze and Grind in Camas, employs four teens.

“I try to always keep at least one high school person employed,” she said. “It’s a connection to the local schools.”

She said the biggest benefit of having teen workers is that they are eager.

“Usually, they’re very willing to work because they want money,” she said. “They’re motivated and easy to mold.”

Wilcox said the downside is the teens’ maturity level.

“They can have really immature behaviors and don’t take it seriously,” she said. “Even though it’s a coffee shop, you still need to be professional.”

When interviewing teens, Wilcox looks for a friendly personality, community involvement and attitude.

“They need to be a fit for what we do here,” she said. “You can’t be too shy.”

Wilcox said with the continued economic downturn, she’s noticed a spike in inquires from people with bachelor‘s and master’s degrees.

“I put an ad on Craigslist and had at least 150 responses come back,” she said.

Danni Southland, 19, has worked at Squeeze and Grind for two years.

“The best part is having money to be able to do things, whether it’s going to the movies or the fair,” she said. “I like not having to ask my parents for money.”

She said a downside in the summer is that, “You lose your life,” but that growing up frequently involves making transitions.

“You just need to get adjusted,” Southland said.

She encourages other teens looking for work to, “not be picky.”

“Don’t think that you’re too good to work somewhere,” she said. “It’s an opportunity to learn form it. There are lots of other people who are older and can’t find a job now. Enjoy the experience, even if you don’t like the job much.”