Growing Pains

Local teenagers exploring all options in sour summer job market

Like many teens, Mariah Teschner thought getting a summer lifeguarding job was a rite of passage, just like buying a prom dress and shifting the graduation cap tassel to the left. But the 18-year-old Foothill High School graduating senior has found that landing a summer job isn’t a given anymore. Teschner received her lifeguard certification, networked and even sought help from a recruiter. Still nothing.

Many teens are finding that they are losing out on opportunities to laid-off adults with skills and experience, who’ve also snaked in front of recent grads and college students. Almost 22 percent of the state’s teens are unemployed, according to the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation, compared with about 20 percent nationwide.

Local teens are definitely looking for work, says Sylvia Spencer, youth program manager for Workforce Connections, a Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation agency serving Southern Nevada. With an overall unemployment rate still hovering at almost 14 percent, Spencer says more teens seek her agency’s help, often saying a parent is laid off and they want to contribute at home. Workforce Connections initiated Project 5,000 Kids in April, aiming to match 5,000 14- to 24-year-olds with employers. Opportunities could include anything from job shadowing a bank president to working at a fast-food restaurant. The program is actively recruiting 3,000 employers and is expected to match 2,000 teens with jobs this summer.

Spencer says some of Workforce Connection’s funds were cut and it’s relying on carry-over funding from stimulus money that helped pad government job programs last summer. The House of Representatives passed legislation in late May to create about 300,000 summer youth jobs, and the measure is expected to be approved soon by the Senate, giving teens such as Teschner hope.

“I’m open [to other options]. I’d like to be a lifeguard, but I’m not going to put all my eggs in one basket,” Teschner says. “But I don’t want to give up.”

Many teens are getting creative amid the high unemployment rate, says Renee Ward, founder of the California-based job-posting website She encourages them to be enterprising and to play up their specialized skills. And they’re taking her advice, with ideas such as starting an eBay business. Some teens have gone door-to-door asking if they can sell neighbors’ unused items on eBay, striking a deal to keep half the profit. Others have approached small business owners and offered their services as a social media manager, promoting the business on sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

“The thing is, there’s going to be a majority of young adults [under] the age of 23 who have never held a paying job,” Ward says. “But I think they’ll be like the children of the Depression. They’ll be more entrepreneurial if history repeats itself.”

If the youth job market remains dry, another option is volunteering. Teen-friendly opportunities are available online with the United Way Volunteer Center of Southern Nevada, and include tutoring, coaching or visiting with seniors. It’s a good way to explore career options before college, says director Robin Kelley, who recently hired staff to find more volunteer options for teens. “We want to know: What would be the dream offering for teens?” she says.

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