As pandemic restrictions ease, high school and college students looking for summer jobs in central Maine just might agree with Daniel Hargreaves, the owner at Tabers restaurant and golf venue in Auburn.
“It’s an employee’s market right now, not an employer’s market,” Hargreaves said. “Most people are hiring, so I think that anyone who wants to find a job can find one pretty easily.”
He is not alone in that conclusion.
Maria Gray, who will be a junior at Bates College and is an administrative assistant for L/A Arts this summer, said job-searching seems to be much easier this summer, since “we’re in such a different place with the virus and we’re vaccinated.”
The coronavirus is not out of our lives yet, but as the area transitions to a post-pandemic reality, some businesses that were closed during the pandemic are reopening, and they will need help, most likely from whoever is willing to give it.
“With the current situation going on, more and more businesses are tapping into some of those older high school students because they have to,” said Lisa Keene, owner of the Dairy Joy shops in Auburn and Lewiston. “They can’t get adults to come and work, so they’re hiring more 17-, 18-, 19-year-olds, because that’s all that they can get.
“Employers are having to give a little more to entice people to come and work for them, rather than work for somebody else,” Keene added, agreeing with the idea that the current job scene is an employee’s market.
It is unclear when or if that older workforce will return, and what that change will mean for the L-A area, but it is a positive sign for young people looking for summer employment.
According to Jessica Picard, communications manager for the Maine Department of Labor, it is too early to see how 2021 summer employment will compare to summer 2020, particularly among various demographic groups.
Data from July 1, 2019, through June 30, 2020, show job sectors like retail trade and accommodation and food services were particularly popular for young workers during this time frame.
“Because of the impact the pandemic had on these sectors, the peak summer employment was likely substantially lower in 2020 than in years past, so we would not expect to see (this year) the same (low) summer peaks in youth employment in 2020,” Picard said. “We are currently seeing a high demand for workers in these sectors, so this may be a great time for young people to get into the workforce.”
Sophia Wood of Auburn, who is an incoming junior at Vassar College and an employee of Tabers this summer, and Baylee Frechette of Auburn, who is a student at the University of Maine Farmington working at Dairy Joy in Auburn this summer, have been part of the summer workforce in the L-A area for several years now. Both said they’ve noticed, by scrolling through online job postings and talking to peers, that it seems less daunting for young people to find jobs this year.
“I don’t think it’s been that challenging,” Wood said. “At the beginning of the pandemic, job-searching was probably a little bit harder because nobody knew what was happening, but I definitely think that it wasn’t necessarily a dampener for students because we can do a lot of the entry-level jobs.”
Delan Fulgham, Workforce Program manager at the Lewiston-Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, said based on his contacts with area industries, “pretty much everywhere” is hiring college students, including hospitality, child care, construction, manufacturing and health care.
Meanwhile, he said, high school students are being hired for traditional summer jobs on local farms, in restaurants and at summer camps.
“These industries are in a dire workforce need, with manufacturing plants closing their third shifts due to staffing, restaurants not opening during lunch because they are spread thin, construction jobs more expensive with rising costs and taking longer with the limited staff, and the hospitals have about 300 to 400 openings between the two of them: St. Mary’s (Regional Medical Center) and CMMC (Central Maine Medical Center),” said Fulgham.
Cyndi McShane and Steve Davis, Center for Student Development career counselors at the University of Maine at Farmington, noted that Maine’s unemployment rate is much lower than it was a year ago.
“UMF students are faring well in this employment market,” the two wrote in an email last week. “Unlike last year, many of Maine’s business sectors are fully open and operational this season, which makes for many employment opportunities for the searching candidate.”
But it has not been all sunshine and rainbows for young employees to find jobs.
Fourteen-year-old Nasro Yusuf, an incoming high school freshman at Lewiston High School, said the biggest obstacle in terms of finding a job for kids her age is not having a worker’s permit, which is required for those under 16. She said more kids her age would work if it was easier to do so.
“Without a worker’s permit, it’s much harder to find a job,” said Yusuf, who does not have a permit herself.
While some teens may volunteer for nonprofits and community groups, finding paying jobs at for-profit businesses will require a work permit.
Work permit applications fell in 2020, reflecting the pandemic’s effect on the economy. But MDOL figures show that applications are on the rise this year, exceeding 2019 numbers so far.
Picard said that compared to 2019 numbers (2,417 work permits), 2021 is showing a 31% increase in work permit applications so far. 2019 was previously the MDOL’s busiest year for applications.
“So far, it looks like it will be our busiest work permit season yet for minors under the age of 16. MDOL has received 3,251 work permit applications between January 1st and today (Friday, June 11). Last year, we received 1,273 work permits during the same time frame,” Picard said.
MDOL numbers also indicate that minors in both 2020 and 2021 are heading for the accommodation and food services industries.
The promising job scene for young workers appears to extend to recent college graduates. Andy Osheroff, manager of operations at the Career and Employment Hub at the University of Southern Maine, said “a really promising job market” currently exists for this year’s graduates.
“Last year, it felt like the sky was falling down a little bit,” Osheroff said. “But the job market was really good right before the pandemic. This spring is kind of a resurgence to that pre-COVID job market. It’s actually a really exciting time to be a student looking for positions in the greater Portland area and throughout Maine.”
He noted that the circumstances for students at USM looking for job positions has changed substantially. Students, he said, are networking and applying for jobs in a virtual environment. It has become the norm.
And the opportunities are everywhere, including Lewiston-Auburn, he said, “for positions that you wouldn’t commute to every single day… maybe never even having to go into the office.”
He continued, “For folks in the Lewiston-Auburn community, just like throughout the rest of Maine, there’s a resurgence in the job market, and there’s lot of opportunity. I think there’s just more opportunity in the post-pandemic world.”
Tabers owner Hargreaves, who hires young people every summer for his seasonal business, said there are currently almost endless possibilities and opportunities in terms of places to work.
“We have all the restaurants open again, indoor places open again, recreation places and movie theaters and other places,” he said. “It’s a much better job scene, for sure.”