After nearly four years working at a pizzeria, Reagan Huber said it was time to put her education to use.
Huber, a 20-year-old rising senior at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County from Ellicott City, studying math and computer science, is set to embark on her first office job this summer, interning at T. Rowe Price, the Baltimore investment house, on its asset allocation team.
She's not sure what she wants to do after graduation, but she believes the internship will help her figure that out.
"I'm graduating in a year," she said. "I just really felt like I needed more experience."
The 10-week internship pays a prorated $45,000 salary, or just over $8,500 for the summer, she said.
Students are seeing the value of summer jobs and starting to pursue them earlier in the academic year, said Christine Routzahn, who has been director of UMBC's career center for four years and worked for the university for 18 years. They and their families understand the importance of making sure summers are being used wisely, in terms of career preparation, by engaging in meaningful work, she said.
"A summer job is not just about making money for the summer," she said. "It's about getting variable experience and transferable skills they can use for their future career."
In the last year, more than 630 employers came to the Catonsville campus to recruit and more than 9,000 job listings were posted on the career center's online jobs platform, she said.
While there are opportunities in all fields present, those in high demand include positions in the information technology sector, she said.
The internship is valuable for students because it's a way for them to show an employer what they're capable of and their value to the organization.
This includes in Routzahn's own office, where interns are hired for graphic design and marketing work.
"We hire students over the summer to do meaningful work we can't get done," she said. "It's a great way to tap into the talent you don't have the skill set for, or the time," she said.
Many employers look first to their intern pool for candidates for full-time positions because they, essentially, had the longest interview process, she said.
Paul Lyon, a rising junior at UMBC from Columbia, is starting an summer internship at Leverege, a company that creates graphical interfaces for data and sensory analysis at the bwtech@UMBC business incubator, where he interned in the spring. He said he'll be paid $10 per hour in the summer.
Now that he's entering the second half of his college studies, he said he wants to broaden his professional network. He also wants the experience of being in a startup company, as he hopes to launch his own business after graduating.
He said he will maintain websites and blogs that the company manages.
"I know in order to start a business you have to know people and have a good idea how to start up a company," he said. "That was important to me, to be in the start-up community."
A May 2016 report from the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based public policy nonprofit, showed youth unemployment rates rose from 2008 to 2011, before gradually declining through 2014.
"While most teens do not need to work to support themselves or their families, the decline [in employment rate] raises concern in some quarters that teens are missing out on opportunities to learn new skills and gain experience and contacts that will improve their job prospects later in life," Martha Ross and Nicole Prchal Svajlenka wrote in the report.
Gary Burtless, an economist at the Brookings Institution, said jobs for teens have been in a long-term decline, as employers have increasingly relied on immigrants, migrants and low-wage adults, instead of teens. It's unresolved whether this primarily reflects changed preferences of teens or employers, he said in an email.
The unemployment rate for youths in the labor force — defined as ages 16 to 24 who have actively sought employment during the last four weeks and currently are available to work — has decreased in Baltimore County, from 16.2 percent in 2013 to 14.7 percent in 2015, according to the American Community Survey, a statistical survey by the Census Bureau. The rate in 2010 was 14 percent.
Statewide, the youth unemployment rate has gradually decreased from 19.8 percent in 2010 to 12.8 percent in 2015.
It's been harder for youths to find jobs since the recession, as adults would fall back into jobs in the summer that may have gone to youth in the past, said Will Anderson, director of Baltimore County's Department of Economic and Workforce Development.
Additionally, the rise of online shopping has led to a decline in popularity of retail stores — and in turn, what was a traditional summer job for young people, he said.
"It was a very different world back then," he said. "When that industry flipped, it affects what's out there for kids, not just shopping patterns for adults."
Internships have increased in prominence in recent years, as part of a broader range of employment opportunities, which also includes apprenticeships and shadowing professionals, Anderson said. He said more people ages 16 to 24 — which he said is the federal definition of youth in the workforce — are looking for work.
"It's not simply about keeping kids busy but having them see themselves as valuable and contributing," he said.
This year was the first year the county organized a matchmaking event for employers and prospective youth employees. More than 350 young adults and 20 employers attended the county-wide career fair at Eastpoint Mall in Dundalk.
The county also has a summer youth employment initiative designed for teens and young adults who are in foster care, homeless or living with disabilities. The county collaborates with businesses and government agencies to pair the participants with six-week paid jobs.
But some summertime staples, such as local swimming pools, continue to employ local youth and the jobs are high in demand. At the Rollingwood Swim Club in Catonsville, applications are sent in at the end of last summer and jobs are filled in February, said Patsy Masters, vice president of personnel at the pool.
Masters said half of the 18 lifeguards at the pool are in high school, while the others are in college. One must be 15 to be a lifeguard and 14 to work at the pool's snack bar.
Masters said the jobs are appealing for local students because many of them live within walking distance from the pool and most have been members prior to getting the job, so they know many of the people they are there to serve.
"There's not many places where a 14-year-old can get a job," she said. She declined to disclose pay rates.
At the Wynnewood Pool in Arbutus, pool manager Scott Ripley said the minimum age to work at the pool, in any capacity, is 16.
The starting hourly wage for a lifeguard is $8.75, while for gate and snack bar staff, it's $8.10, he said.
According to state law, amusement and recreational establishments that operate for no more than seven months in a year — such as a seasonal pool — may pay 85 percent of minimum wage. The state minimum wage will rise from $8.75 to $9.25 per hour on July 1.
Employees under 16 who work less than 20 hours per week are exempt from minimum wage and overtime.
The position serves as a way for kids to make money in the summertime and stay in the community, he said.
"It gives them their first taste of what a real job's like," he said.
This story has been updated to clarify how long Christine Routzahn has served as director of UMBC's career center.