Charlie Thomas, who runs Columbia Association’s summer camp programs, knows the value in a summer job for teens.
“Because they start working at a young age, at least the counselors, they see the benefit of working and giving back to the community,” said Thomas, camps manager at the association that has hired former campers to staff seasonal programs that include sports, arts, nature and cooking.
Despite opportunities a summer job can bring – a proverbial foot in the door – fewer youths nationwide have been signing up to work in the past two decades, according to labor statistics and surveys.
Reasons for the decline are as diverse as greater academic pressures, demanding more summer study, and online sales eroding brick-and-mortar retail jobs.
By 2024, a projected 26 percent of 16- to 19-years olds will take seasonal jobs, down from 41 percent last year, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
A new analysis from the Pew Research Center found that in 2017, about a third of teens held a summer job.
Pew’s report suggested there are fewer low-skill, entry-level jobs than in previous decades, more students are enrolled in high school or college over the summer and more academic years were ending in late June and restarting before Labor Day. Additionally, more teenagers are doing community service projects — either as a graduation requirement or to polish college applications — and others are taking unpaid internships.
Teen summer employment fell after the 2001 recession and “even more sharply,” both during and after the Great Recession from 2007 to 2009, according to Pew.
During the summer, Columbia Association hires more than 500 employees, a vast majority of them teenagers, primarily for its aquatics and camp programs, according to spokesman David Greisman.
The aquatics positions available include lifeguards, swimming instructors, coaches and pool managers.
Greisman, who said there has not been a drop in applicants for jobs, said that the wages for employees depends on their position.
Many of those who fill the aquatics team member positions have grown up either swimming in the pools, taking lessons or competing in the Columbia Neighborhood Swim League.
Corey Woo, a pool operations manager, said that the teenagers who work as an aquatics team member earn more than a paycheck.
The youth employees experience life lessons, including interacting with the public, providing customer service and problem solving.
Ron Meliker, director of human resources, said that a lot of county teenagers who started working for the Columbia Association continue to work with the various programs during college breaks. Additionally, a number of employees who started out in a summer positions are working in management positions for the Columbia Association some 20 years later.
During the school year, the Columbia Association visits county high schools to make students aware of the summer opportunities. The association also visits Howard County Community College and posts on social media and Glassdoor, an online hiring site.
"A child has to start somewhere to learn what it's like to be in the working world,” Meliker said in an email. “What better place than in their community?”
Across Howard County, popular jobs include working in restaurants, retail, grocery stores, at summer camps and as lifeguards, said Francine Trout, director of the county’s Office of Workforce Development, which holds a Teen Opportunities Fair each spring.
More than 400 job-seekers attended the March fair where they could meet with about 70 vendors, according to Jermira Sarratt, a youth program coordinator in the workforce development office.
“There were a ton of summer jobs available,” Trout said.
The office also offers paid internships in several county offices through a Summer Youth Employment Program for students considered at a disadvantage because they come from low-income households, or have a criminal background, a disability, poor literacy skills or other challenges.
This year, 11 youths are working at the Board of Elections, Bureau of Utilities, the Housing Commission, Roving Radishes, a program that promotes healthy eating habits, the FLEET Office, where county vehicles are serviced and the MultiService Center, where community resources and services are available in Laurel.
Participants work 20 to 25 hours per week with an additional day in the workforce development’s office where they explore other careers.
More than 65 applications were received and 29 youths were interviewed, according to Sarratt.
“There is competition, it is not first-come, first-serve,” Sarratt said.
Camrin Holloman, 18, and Trevyn Kamara, 17, both from Columbia, are working at the Board of Elections warehouse, helping to prepare for the November general election.
Holloman, an incoming senior at Oakland Mills High School, said that he hopes to gain work experience in new situations.
“If you get an opportunity like this, you should take it … it can help you a lot,” Holloman said.
For Kamara, who is home-schooled, working with the election’s office is his first job.
This is the first year the elections office is participating in the summer youth program, according to director Guy Mickley.
Mickely said it’s a “very, very busy time … an all hands on deck time” with an election months away.
Holloman and Kamara are unpacking voting equipment used in the primary, verifying supplies and preparing the equipment for November.
They were on hand for an historic recount in the Howard County Council District 1 race, pulling out ballots for the July 11 recount.
“One of the things that I think is really important is being on a team, the value that a team holds,” Mickely said. “In sports there is no ‘I’ in team and that’s the same thing here.”
Holloman and Kamara are also doing a project comparing and contrasting two careers.
“I want to be a lawyer,” Holloman said. “I’m working on [learning] what it takes and requires to become one.”
Kamara is researching a career as a police officer. His career goal at the moment is to become a professional hockey player.
The program receives funding through the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation and the Division of Rehabilitation Services, part of the state’s Department of Education.
The county also offers a year-round program that assists those between the ages of 16 and 24 years old gain education, occupation and job readiness training.
Sarratt said that the program gives teenagers access to employment and education training, including resume writing, interviewing, work attire — even how to shake hands. .
“The youth that participate in the program understand that we are here for them and working through it with them, they have a support system,” Sarratt said.