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No Takers : As Teen-Agers Seek More Money and Prestige, Traditional Summer Jobs Go Begging

June 16, 1988|DAVID WHARTON | Times Staff Writer

Burger King pays $3.80 for a starting order-taker. Jeff Sinian just got hired there and he says it's a pretty easy way to make money over the summer.

But the 15-year-old high school student figures that by next summer, with some experience under his belt, he'll be able to move up in the world.

"I want to go work in a mall," Sinian said.

San Fernando Valley teen-agers can afford to be choosy about vacation work. While students in other parts of Los Angeles are scrambling for jobs, there are more positions in the Valley than there are teens to fill them.

"It's a little unnerving," said Joan Dix, who runs the North Hollywood office of the state Employment Development Department. "We're used to young people who really want jobs. Now, they aren't interested in working unless the salary is commensurate or the work is in line with their career goals."

National Trend

To some extent, the Valley is following a national trend that began last summer. The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics found that in 1987, the annual flood of teen-agers into the job market never materialized. Those who did look for work faced less competition, and the same is expected this summer.

The Valley job market is even more favorable because there are literally thousands of small industries, cookie stores and Burger Kings looking for young workers. And, according to county and school officials, there are also upper-class neighborhoods where teens don't have to work during the summer.

"We have students who say, 'What? They're only paying minimum wage? I'm not doing that,' " said Dan Livson, a work experience counselor at Van Nuys High School, where the job listings board is overflowing with "Help Wanted" notices. "We have a lot of jobs that seem pretty good that haven't been filled."

Meanwhile, Sunny Lee is looking to quit her $4.50-an-hour job at a video rental shop and find work in a bank or an office.

More Money

"I want an easy job that makes more money," said the 16-year-old from Panorama City. "I want more money."

Employers seem a bit mystified by the recent shortage of job-hungry youths. Last summer, Magic Mountain began recruiting senior citizens for some of the 1,700 summer jobs that had traditionally been filled by high-school students.

Gary Vien, personnel manager at the Valencia amusement park, remembers when he was 15 and grateful to have work twisting pretzels at an amusement park in his hometown. Vien is hoping that Magic Mountain's new roller coaster, Ninja, will draw teens to apply for the 800 positions that still remain open this season.

"Just because of the thrill of the ride, it puts Magic Mountain in the forefront of their minds, and they will want to be a part of it," Vien said.

The Los Angeles Unified School District will help, too. The district runs a "First Break" program that matches students with jobs. Because there isn't enough summer work in Watts and other inner-city neighborhoods, the district will bus 75 students to Magic Mountain each day for work.

"There just is not that much industry in Watts," said Cecilia Glorious, the program's coordinator. "We'll take the kids where there are jobs."

Calamigos Ranch, a picnic and conference center in Malibu, attracts Valley teens with the promise of outdoor work in a park-like setting. Other businesses, such as McDonald's restaurants, must resort to offering salaries above minimum wage, which increases to $4.25 an hour on July 1.

"In the more affluent areas along Ventura Boulevard, it's very difficult to get kids," said Nancy Fullarton, personnel director for a string of 13 McDonald's franchises in the Valley. "I wish I knew what the kids were looking for."

New Challenge

And in the high schools, work experience counselors say they face a new challenge. For years, these counselors struggled to drum up jobs from community businesses. Now, they are more concerned with finding jobs that will interest students.

"Kids don't really want to work fast-food anymore," said Belinda Cuppari, who runs the work experience office at San Fernando High School. "They want office work, they want computers and they want to work at Universal Studios."

One thing that hasn't changed about summer jobs is the way that teens are spending their paychecks. A number of young workers interviewed said they were paying for new cars and new clothes, and a few were saving for college.

The teens seemed to be enjoying the job climate. Students interviewed at several high schools in the Valley said jobs were easy to find.

Roberto Villar was hired by a fabric store on his first interview. Sean Allen was walking through a nursery with his mother when the saw a "Help Needed" sign. He got hired that week.

Another student said he decided to endure a back-breaking summer at a warehouse because the work paid $6 an hour. Alma Escobar will be working as a clerk at Monroe High School for an entirely different reason.

"They told me it would be easy," said Alma, 17, of Sepulveda. "So I figured I'd take it." And like Jeff Sinian, Karen Wilson is hoping to move on from her job at a burger place. Not too long ago, this work would have been standard fare for teens. But in today's job market, serving Whoppers is low-prestige.

"My friends used to work here too, but they quit," said Karen, 16. "Sometimes they tease about it, but I don't care. I'll stay till the end of the summer."

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