Teens’ jobs outlook improves

Tiffany Beisel didn't like unemployment much. When the Maize High junior got hired at Spangles after 16 months between jobs, she celebrated.

"I was pretty excited," she said. "I hadn't worked for a whole year."

Last year was a terrible one for teenagers to look for work — only slightly better than 2008, the worst year in five decades.

But a new outlook by national outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas predicts that 2010 will be slightly better.

It can't get a whole lot worse.

There are no unemployment numbers for teenagers in Wichita or Kansas. But the national unemployment rate for teenagers in March was 26.1 percent. For black teens, it was 41.1 percent.

Teens may work cheaply, but they face challenges when times get hard and competition with adults gets tight: They can't work during school hours and often have little experience and few skills.

Wes Hostetler, store manager for the Johnson's Garden Center near 21st and Woodlawn, typically hires teenagers to work part-time shifts at the counter during the busy spring season.

This year, he hired two adults instead.

The number and quality of the adults applying for part-time work at Johnson's is higher than he can remember.

"Dependability and quality," he said explaining why he hired them this year.

They also know something about gardening and can work more varied hours.

Rene Steven, director of operations for Spangles, said people are unusually hungry for work — so finding work in summer might be pretty difficult.

"We opened two new stores, and we hired everyone in one day," she said. "We hired 35 to 40 people. We had never done that before."

Even if they use teens, she said, they tend to hire them as needed during the year and expect them to work during school. Hiring somebody in June means they will leave just when they are getting fully trained.

Turnover is low. Hannah Christiansen, a junior at Maize High, has worked at Spangles about a year and a half.

"I work to have money and to have something to do," she said.

The reason the outlook is improving this year, said Challenger, Gray & Christmas CEO John Challenger, is that consumer spending is inching up.

"People are starting to go to more movies and going out for dinner a little more often," he said. "This summer, families may still skip on the extravagant vacations but are more likely to visit nearby attractions, such as amusement parks and water parks."

There may also be government help for some local teens.

The Workforce Alliance of South Central Kansas has a $600,000 federal grant to put 250 teenagers and young adults to work this summer.

The applicants must meet income guidelines and have significant barriers to employment. They will work at area schools and nonprofit organizations.