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College Students Stand Best Chance for Summer Job

Prospects are bleaker for the many high-school age and lower-skilled people seeking work.


It's mid-June. School's out. Now what?

For college students, the answer is almost anything.

Bolstered by a resurgent economy, the number of summer jobs and internships available to area college students is approaching pre-recession highs, job analysts said. And many positions are still unfilled.

Creative college students can finagle summer jobs, especially unpaid ones, in almost any field through perseverance and networking.

Internships "can be had at almost any time if students know how to go about it," said Mary Williams, internship coordinator for Cal State Northridge.

For high school students, the job prospects are decidedly bleaker. Although government and private sector programs are expected to provide 19,000 summer jobs for Los Angeles youth this year, the demand for work is expected to be far greater, and it's feared most students will walk away empty-handed. About 124,000 high school students are on summer vacation from the Los Angeles Unified School District alone.

Still, job counselors encourage teens to pound the pavement. With persistence and luck, they said, summer work can be found.

Lingering unemployment in Los Angeles County is the main reason for the disparity in job opportunities for secondary and college-level students, local analysts said. Jobs in the retail and service sectors--the traditional source of most summer jobs for teenagers--are being snatched up by the better educated and more experienced ranks of the unemployed, mainly because companies are out to maximize productivity.

"These people have better skills than a lot of students in high school, and retail chains are stressing better service," said Jack Kyser, chief economist for the Economic Development Corp. of Los Angeles County. "This is a hangover from our great economic restructuring. If you can get the best qualified workers at the lowest price, that's what you'll do. This puts high school students at a disadvantage."

Higher up the education ladder, the story changes dramatically. Summer job opportunities for college students in Southern California have grown considerably over last year, said John Arany, a career counselor at Northridge. "The quality of jobs also seems to be up," he said.

Jerry Houser, director of career services at USC, agrees. He said the number of summer positions available for college students this year has reached 1990-91 levels, down only slightly from the pre-recession peak the year before.

The influx is particularly welcome given the growing importance employers place on prior work experience when reviewing applications for full-time hires.

"For college students, summer jobs and internships have become vitally important for finding entry-level work after graduation," Arany said. "In the '80s, it wasn't as strong, but when the recession hit, it seems to me employers started demanding more."

A June start may seem late for a summer job search, students often begin looking as early as January, but college career counselors said job offers, even for coveted positions, continue to pour into career offices well into midsummer.

"There is another wave of job hiring that happens later in the summer," said Kathy Sims, director of the UCLA career center. To catch the surge, Sims advises students to check daily with their career offices or browse through their school's job listings on the Internet.

Most local universities and colleges have an account with an Internet service called Jobtrak, a West Los Angeles-based company that posts job listings for post-secondary schools across the nation. Jobtrak, whose Internet address is, receives about 2,100 new job offers a day, according to Chief Executive Ken Ramberg. About a quarter of those are summer jobs and internships. Although students can access job listings only for their specific schools, the Jobtrak Web site also features a comprehensive guide to other Internet job listings and resources available to any user.

Students who can't find their ideal summer job in the career office shouldn't despair, counselors said. There are a number of ways to pursue positions at businesses that haven't formally posted them.

First, try networking.

Students should call on friends, family, acquaintances and faculty members for information about available jobs, Houser said. Even if those contacts have no leads, they may know someone who does.

Professional societies and associations also are a fertile territory for connections, Arany said.

Student Dave Gabler, a USC junior and business major, hopes to use networking to jump-start his summer job plans. He wants to be a freelance management consultant, a field he has studied at school.

"I'll be a pretty cheap consultant, because I don't have any experience," he said. "Hopefully, I'll gain some experience and some good references out of it, which'll help me get a job next year."

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