Local employers see strong teen summer employment for upcoming season

As the number of teens involved in the workforce returns to pre-pandemic levels, local employers are filling summer job openings.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 55.3% of people ages 16 to 24 were employed across the country in July 2022, up from 54.4% in July 2021 but still below 56.2% in July 2019.

Locally, workforce participation of people ages 16 to 19 has decreased slightly in the last decade, from around 60% to 56%, according to Greater Dubuque Development Corp. Director of Workforce Programming Nic Hockenberry.

“Anecdotally, a lot of that comes from increased participation in after-school activities and other pulls students have,” he said. “But when summer comes around, we do our best to promote entry-level opportunities that are available. … I will say late spring and early summer are some of our higher employment months. We have a lot more people coming into the workforce during that period. Hopefully, that does relieve a lot of the stress employers feel the rest of the year.”

City of Dubuque Recreation Division Manager Dan Kroger said the city received more than 450 summer job applications this year, more than double the amount from last year. He said marketing for those positions began in November and December.

“That’s from a combination of our (human resources) department, (public information) office and staff at leisure services,” he said. “The advertisement and marketing campaign for those positions was phenomenal, and the proof is in the number of applications.”

Feeding that uptick was the announcement last month that both Flora and Sutton pools will be open this year for the first time in three years. Staffing shortages led to only one pool being fully open at a time in 2021. Only Flora Pool operated in 2022. Lifeguard hourly pay has also increased from $12.50 to $15.

“All of our areas, especially those who hire teens, have enough staff to be able to have their programs in all spaces,” Kroger said. “Awareness is a big part of it. Another big part of it is the wage. We are so fortunate the city manager and City Council improved the wage increases for seasonal employees.”

Teens in the workforce

Vicki Blake, owner of the Dairy Queen at 2300 Rhomberg Ave., said 12 employees came back from last year’s season, and she just hired three more.

“We are continuously hiring and training,” she said. “I think it (labor shortages) has gotten better. It’s still a little bit of a struggle to find cooks and stuff like that, but we’ve still found them. It’s definitely gotten better.”

She also said a lot of current employees are recommended by former employees, friends or other people.

“It’s very, very hard finding daytime help during the school year,” she added. “Nighttime is better. It is hard until the kids get out of school for me. Once they’re out, I can move nighttime people to daytime.”

In smaller towns, employers are also in decent shape, according to Dan Bowden, general manager of Cole Acres Golf and Grill in Cuba City, Wisconsin. The facility reopened in March after being closed for two years.

“We had a good number of applications,” Bowden said. “We have a couple of positions we’re looking to fill, but we’re in decent shape. Our busy time is yet to come. We’ll lean on them pretty heavily once they get out of school.”

Roan Martineau, a junior at Wahlert Catholic High School, plans to work at both The Meadows Golf Club and Dubuque Golf and Country Club this summer.

“I’m pretty into savings and trying to work as much as possible,” he said. “Last year was my first year working (at the clubs). This year, I’m trying to put in a good amount of hours at the club and The Meadows. I’m trying to save up money for college and other expenses.”

He added that many of his friends have jobs, as well, and four of his friends will work at The Meadows with him this summer after his recommendation.

Lance Marting, Dubuque Golf and Country Club general manager, said some of the organization’s new hires are products of friends referring friends.

At the height of the summer season, Marting said the club employs about 150 staff members, about 65 to 70 of which are ages 15 to early 20s.

“Half of the young people that apply here are looking for their first job, and we try to make it a good experience for them,” he said. “It’s important to myself and the other managers here. We have the honor of being the location of the first job they ever had.”

While Marting said the club is still looking to hire about 10 more people for the pool area, the club has been fortunate the past couple of years to have a strong summer staff.

He also noted that Iowa legislators have been working on making changes to labor laws.

Iowa Senate File 542, which has yet to be signed by Gov. Kim Reynolds, outlines several changes to youth employment, including to hour restrictions and the ability for minors to serve alcohol. The U.S. Department of Labor recently issued a letter stating that the legislation conflicts with federal laws.

“We serve alcohol in a lot of different points or places,” Marting said, referencing the proposed legislation. “That might change how we do things a little bit, but we’re not banking on it. We might change, but we’re not going to count on it at this point in time.”