As the end of the school year approaches, kids begin the annual rite of tracking down summer jobs. This year it will be tougher than ever, job counselors say, because of the sluggish economy.
But there's help out there for kids who want to work, and even a special summer job program for low-income and disabled youths.
The biggest employer of kids in Ventura County is Youth Employment Services. With offices throughout the county, they match kids 13 and older with full and part-time jobs throughout the year.
The nonprofit job centers, funded with United Way funds as well as other public and private money, are free for both the youth and the employer. Not only that, their counselors advise kids on how to apply and interview for a job.
Making a good impression couldn't be more important during these bad economic times, counselors said. The jobs are scarce and the applicants plentiful.
"The market out there for employers is wide open," said Joyce Waldren, director of Youth Employment Services in Ventura. "Youths today have to be extremely careful as to how they dress." Equally important is their attitude toward work and their approach to the job, she said.
Youths interviewing for a job should heed Waldren's list of no-nos: wild hair, shorts, revealing skirts or tops and sandals. Look the employer in the eye, she advised, and be enthusiastic.
The YES centers, which all operate independently, generally place youths in three types of jobs: in businesses, at residences and doing child care.
Business job applicants might find themselves employed in sales, clerical, janitorial, restaurant and construction jobs. Residential employment might include yardwork, housework, home repairs, odd jobs and being a nurse's aide. In child care jobs, kids might baby-sit evenings, a few hours a day, or full time.
If youths are looking for glamorous, adventurous jobs, forget it, Waldren advised. "We don't have jobs like washing elephants." But one girl accompanied a family to Ireland for several summers to help with child-care responsibilities, she said.
Young people who work in business can expect to earn at least minimum wage, which is $4.25 per hour, job counselors said. The going rate for child care starts at $2 per hour and residential work averages about $5 per hour.
Counselors said many youths seeking jobs don't realize how tight the job market is now. They're picky about what jobs they might take, and they expect to be paid well. Neither is realistic, counselors said.
"Employers are not hiring as many youths this year, and in some places they are laying off their own people," said Linda Flanigan, executive director of the Conejo Youth Employment Services. During April, 760 youths contacted the office for jobs, she said, and 150 were placed.
"Last year I got a job for a dishwasher I couldn't fill," said Harriet Shrater, a job counselor with the Conejo YES. "This year I sent out about eight people (to interview) for it."
Jobs at fast-food outlets are generally available for kids as young as 16, but they're not jobs kids rush to take.
Many youths think "it's not cool to be working in fast food," Shrater said.
Another source of summer employment is the job bulletin board at high schools throughout the county. But even those listings are down.
"We usually get five or six calls a day," said Joan Sparks, career guidance technician at Thousand Oaks High School. "That's just not the case now."
Summer jobs are available for disabled youths and those from low-income families through the Summer Youth Employment and Training Program. The program is federally funded through the Job Training Policy Council of Ventura County, and several offices are located throughout the county.
The eight-week program is open to youths 14-21 who are placed in jobs with public or nonprofit agencies. They work a maximum of 30 hours per week, and some youths who need remedial help are paid to work as well as take classes for two hours a day.
They earn minimum wage for work that includes clerical, recreational, computer and custodial jobs. Even in this program, jobs are not as plentiful in some locations as last year.
The Ventura program served 120 youths last year, but this year the numbers will be 90 to 95, according to Maggie Medina, program coordinator.
* For information about Youth Employment Services, call these numbers: Ventura, 643-5396; Thousand Oaks, 496-6868; Fillmore, 524-2424; Simi Valley, 522-4473; Oxnard-Port Hueneme, 487-4043; Santa Paula, 525-1403; Ojai, 646-4397, and Camarillo, 482-0775.
* For information about the Summer Youth Employment and Training Program, call 1-800-325-1781.