Teen job seekers find their niche

If you were a high schooler looking for your first job this summer and couldn’t find one, keep trying . It might just take a few more applications in the current economic climate.

Dremma Gaul, a restaurant owner for almost 30 years, sees an increase every summer from job applicants who are in high school. “Because they don’t have any work experience, you can’t base it on that. All you can base it on is how they carry themselves when they come in,” said Gaul, who owns Three Li’l Pigs Barbeque in Daleville with her husband, Bill Gaul.

Gaul knows the potential of hiring a young worker: getting someone who will stay a while. She finds a level of commitment and stability more readily available with younger workers as opposed to older hires. “They start at 16, they work all the way through college and then when they get their normal job, that’s usually when they move on,” she said. It is an ideal situation, where Gaul can train them and keep them for a good amount of time.

Gaul took a chance on Joey Loving, 18, a recent graduate of Northside High School, and hired him as a host at the restaurant.

“Joey has a lot of what I look for,” Gaul said. “We’re looking for people who are good with the public, who are hardworking but are going to stick around.”

Gaul’s 45-member staff consists mostly of employees under the age of 20.

“The kids that work for us are hard working. They save their money, they buy their own cars, they save money for college,” she added.

The unemployment rate for 16- to 19-year-olds in the U.S. was at 21 percent in June, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This has steadily decreased since the peak of unemployment in June 2010, when it was 26 percent for teens. In June 2000, well before the Great Recession hit, the rate was 12.3 percent.

Each year between April and July, there is a surge of labor force participation for youth ages 16 to 24. For the last two years, participation has held at 60.5 percent in July, according to BLS figures. That compares to a peak of 77.5 percent in July 1989.

“You’ve got the recession, which, that by itself would make it more difficult for a young person with no work experience to find a job. You’ve got middle-aged people who are looking just to pay their bills who are taking these jobs, and then you’ve got retired people who are taking those entry-level jobs because they want something to do. So it just pushes the kids out. It crowds them out of the labor market,” said Gary Fleming, a professor of economics at Roanoke College.

Jobs may be scarce for teens but the ones who have them seem to budget their money carefully. At least that is the case for several recent high school graduates who have entered the job market this summer.

Emily Wingo, library


Emily Wingo, 17, graduated from Northside High School this year and immediately began working her very first job. The search for it, though, began a year ago in July.

“I looked last summer and had a hard time. I didn’t get one until November,” Wingo said. Ten applications later, she finally landed her first job. Wingo is a jack-of-all-trades at the Hollins Branch Library who can be seen pushing a squeaky cart down the library aisles, re-shelving returned books or helping patrons with computer-related questions. She thinks that volunteering there in the past helped her to get the job.

Wingo keeps a careful eye on her bi-weekly paycheck, which garners her about $130 to $150 for her part-time, minimum-wage work. While a chunk of it goes into the gas that transports her to the library, she makes a concerted effort to place the rest, about $100 each time, into savings.

“And every once in a while I’ll put like $50 in my checking account,” she said. “Then that way I can have some spending money for fun.” Wingo will enroll at Virginia Western Community College this fall and hopes that her work experience and savings will help offset the impending costs. While her parents will help support her financially, she plans to contribute a portion so that she can graduate without any debt.

Joey Loving, restaurant host, and Eli Stickney, lifeguard/swim teacher

So how does one find a paying job without any prior work experience?

“Knowing the right people,” said Loving. Loving, who works part-time at the restaurant in Daleville, found his job after his dad spotted a “Now hiring” sign in the window. He said his first job, in 2012, also came from being in the right place at the right time, when the owner of Bellacino’s happened to drive by while Loving was in front of the restaurant and asked him if he was looking for a job. Right now, he gets paid $6.25 an hour plus tip-out at Three Li’l Pigs. He’s developed his communication skills on the job, he said. Loving plans to attend James Madison University in the fall majoring in business management.

Eli Stickney, 18, of Roanoke, a recent graduate of Hidden Valley High School, searched for a job by looking on the city of Roanoke’s website. From there, he found lifeguarding jobs available and immediately applied. Stickney thought his participation on the swim team for seven years would help him to be hired. Aligning his skills to an appropriate job paid off; he earns $9.85 per hour as a lifeguard and $10.05 per hour teaching private swim lessons, a higher income than the average of his peers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Stickney hopes to save between $1,250 and $1,750 this the summer to go toward college in the fall at Virginia Western.

Logan Atkins, grocery store and lawn mowing

Some recent high school graduates also find creative ways to scrape money together, like mowing lawns.

Logan Atkins, 18, began mowing yards in the eighth grade, asking neighbors, family and friends for a job. He now works part-time at Food Lion as a cashier and filling in wherever else he’s needed, but he still mows lawns for the summer.

“My parents are going to help me out some, but it’s a lot on me, too. So that’s why I have to save as much possible and work as much as I can,” Atkins said. He will attend Bridgewater College in the fall.

Jenna Graves, Diamond Girl and snack bar worker

“I definitely think it’s hard to save. It’s easier said than done,” says Jenna Graves, 17, a recent graduate of Hidden Valley High School. Graves is working two jobs this summer, one part-time at the Skate Center of Roanoke Valley and the other as a Diamond Girl at Salem Red Sox games. At both jobs, she makes $7.50 an hour. Graves admits the temptation to purchase items just because she has the money on hand. She keeps a close eye on her income, budgeting 10 percent to tithing and 10 percent for savings. She hopes to use the money she earns towards her room and board while she attends school.

Graves recently found out that her college education bill would be taken care of by her grandfather. While some graduates would take the rest of the summer off, she kept her jobs. “Working gives you so much responsibility,” she said. She watched her older sister struggle to find a job in her field after graduating from college several years ago. Now, Graves wants to make sure she has work experience even before entering college. She already has an internship at WSLS-TV (Channel 10) under her belt. She plans to attend George Mason University as a communications major, with hopes of attending law school.

On a recent Friday morning, Graves worked the snack bar at the skate center and happily greeted what seemed like an endless stream of children looking to spend money for candy and food. Graves would work an eight-hour shift and then go straight to work at the baseball game for the evening.

“A lot of times I struggle with wondering what I’m supposed to be doing with my career because, will it matter? Will I really get a job where I want to? And it does depend on who you are as a person, in working hard, but it’s a struggle,” Graves said.