As she does on many weekends during the year, 16-year-old Wanda Williams went to Northridge Fashion Center on Saturday to shop.
But Wanda was not looking for clothes or the latest rock album. The Reseda teen-ager was shopping for a job.
"I'm looking for basically anything," said Wanda, clutching a job application for the Burger King chain restaurant in one hand and two balloons she had picked up from a store display in the other. "I'm really worried about finding work. I need the money, but there are a lot of kids out there looking for jobs."
More than 1,000 job-hungry teen-agers such as Wanda crowded into the Northridge mall for a job fair geared to youths looking for summer jobs. The roughly 6,000 entry-level jobs being offered ranged from clerical work at Lockheed-California Co. to counter jobs at Winchell's Donuts. Twenty-four companies and franchises were represented.
The fair was the brainchild of R. J. Associates, a Tarzana-based executive-search and management-consulting firm. An executive of the firm, Ron Fischer, said the fair was organized to provide summer employment for teen-agers and to give employers easy access to a dwindling youthful labor force.
"This is a very non-threatening environment for kids, and they can just come here and take their pick of what they're looking for in one swoop," Fischer said.
Employer representatives staffed dozens of tables, which lined almost the entire first floor of the mall. Most of the teen-agers applied for several jobs. Some came in sweat shirts and jeans, others wore fashionable summer clothes. The mood was casual but serious, and, in some cases, tense for teen-agers who wanted spending money for the summer.
"I would like to work in a department store selling clothes because that's a little more secure, but I'll take anything because I need the money," said Wanda, who attends Cleveland High School in Reseda. "I'm just going from table to table. I'm not doing any shopping--only a little window shopping."
Young Kwak, 15, of Reseda, who also attends Cleveland, said his parents encouraged him to attend the fair. "This will be my first job," he said, after handing an application to Winchell's Donuts representatives. "I hope I get something good. But if I don't, it's casual. My parents said it would be good experience."
The mall at times resembled an overcrowded library, with several teen-agers sitting at one table, hunched over applications. Others, because all the chairs were taken, knelt on tables or filled out applications on friends' backs.
"I want to work at the front gate at Magic Mountain," said Jill Nguyen, 15, who was filling out an application for that job, which pays $3.35 an hour, on the back of her friend, Robbie Villar, 16. "I think that would be fun."
Robbie was more particular. He said he was looking for a business or clerical job that would pay $5 an hour. "All these fast-food jobs are no good," he said. "I want something where I can get promoted."
Although the fair officially started at 10 a.m., dozens of youths began lining up at the doors at 8:30 a.m. Some of the employers seemed overwhelmed by the turnout.
"We brought 700 applications here, and we thought that would be more than enough, but they were all gone in an hour and a half," said Linda Murphy, personnel coordinator for Target, a discount store. "We had to go to one of our stores and get some more."
Murphy, along with other employers, said the youths were alert, polite and inquisitive. "They told us they're anxious to work, and that they'll take anything," she said. "Most of them want to be cashiers and salespersons." She said the chain was hiring for jobs in stores throughout the Valley and Los Angeles.
Gary Vien, personnel manager for Six Flags Magic Mountain, said most of the youths applying for 3,000 jobs available at the park wanted to operate some of the "white-knuckler" attractions. "But they need to be older to do that, so we'll put most of them in food service or cashiers' positions," he said.