By Laura Power
Special To The Standard
This is the first in a two-part series about teenagers and summer jobs.
Eighteen-year-old Caleb Davio is grateful for the small joys of holding down a job. He’s happy, at the start of his 8 a.m. shifts, to put on his black “Mac’s” apron and report to his cashier station. He enjoys greeting the Woodstock grocery store’s regular patrons, the familiar faces that respond in kind to his cheerful “how are you?” And, Davio says, it’s satisfying to keep an eye on the neighboring check-outs and jump in when needed to help bag canned peas or pints of Ben and Jerry’s. He even likes keeping up on the current price per pound of bananas and sweet potatoes.
Davio is learning, as are other area teenagers, that the tenacity he employed to find a job, and the energy he puts into doing it well, are paying off in more in more ways than just a salary.
Prospects for a job, any job, seemed pretty glum back in November says Davio, a Reading resident. He and his mom were counting their pennies, and the then senior at Woodstock Union High School was worrying about money. “What was going through my head,” he says, “was how am I going to support myself without burdening anybody else?” He peppered Claremont and West Lebanon businesses with applications, but got no takers, and usually, no responses of any kind.
By spring, Davio was still empty-handed and a bit frustrated. He’d been going into stores and talking with people, but he found out, at least for the big chains, that in-store managers didn’t seem have direct hiring authority. The on-line applications they required were all apparently screened by computers, not people. “If you don’t match up on the mainframe, you don’t get the job,” he says, “there’s no human contact, you can’t make a connection, there’s just basic zeros and ones on a computer.”
Davio was partly the victim of a protracted economic downturn that has made finding work more difficult for job seekers of all ages. Mathew Barewicz, Economic and Labor Market Information Chief for the Vermont Department of Labor, says that while there isn’t rigorous data to quantify the extent of unemployment among 14 to 19 year olds in Vermont this summer, teens are particularly vulnerable during slow and recession economies. “There is a lot more competition [for jobs],” he says, “and it funnels down.” Experienced workers are vying for jobs, he explains, that in a more robust economy would go to new college graduates, who in turn are in the pool, at least temporarily, for jobs that the high school set are also seeking. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that, nationally, unemployment among teens is hovering at around 25 percent. The outlook for Vermont teens is less bleak, says Barewicz, due in part to the state’s large and diverse tourism and hospitality industry, which draws local travelers in poor economies and distant visitors in better times. “The overall unemployment rate in Vermont is the fifth lowest in the country,” he says, “for teens, the rate can be anywhere from two to three times higher than the normal state wide average.” In May, the overall unemployment rate in Vermont was 5.4 percent, down from 6.3 percent in January.
Davio’s faith in the human-to-human approach to finding a job did finally pay off. In April, he heard rumors around school that there might be some openings at Mac’s Woodstock Market; he rushed over and handed a completed paper application to a living, breathing person. “I gave it to a day manager there, I wanted to be sure that it got into the right hands,” he says, “they don’t do on-line applications at Mac’s.” A week later, he had a job. He’s working about 28 hours a week now, and earning enough to cover the expenses of his old gas-guzzling car, which a friend generously gave him, and to sock away some savings.
But beyond the relief he feels from carrying his own weight financially, Davio also recognizes the importance of the people and teamwork skills he’s learning. And he loves the atmosphere at Mac’s. “My coworkers are great,” he says, “I can trust that if I make a mistake, they are there, and they will help me.” He particularly credits his manager, Bob Kazakiewich, “an all-around good guy,” with easing his transition from student to worker.
Davio hopes that college is in his future sometime, but for now he’s happy where he is. “I definitely plan to stay at Mac’s,” he says, “getting a good job was so hard, I’m not going to risk losing it.”
Summer and part time jobs are important for teens, says Rose Lucenti, a Career Grants Administrator for youth programs at Vermont’s Department of Labor. “The confidence and self-esteem that it builds are priceless for kids,” she says. And, a taste of the working world helps young people develop the “soft skills” that they will need later for long-term employment. The ability to arrive at work on time, schedule appointments outside of work hours, get along with coworkers, and show motivation are seemingly common sense attributes, but ones that Lucenti hears over and over from employers that they need and highly value. “They are critical for kids to learn,” she says.
On his fourth day of work last week, Reed Langona was out on the Faulkner Trail, the switchback path that leads from Woodstock Village to Mount Tom’s South Peak. He and a handful of other teens with shovels and pick axes dug out roots and stones, then packed the voids with dirt to level out the trail tread. Some would call their exertions hard physical labor, but to the sixteen year old Langona, the sunshine, the working with tools, the being with upbeat, friendly people made it more like nirvana. Through the first week of August, he and his Vermont Youth Conservation Corps (VYCC) crew mates will be working on outdoor projects in the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historic Park. They’ll be repairing trails, clearing drainage ditches, constructing bridges, and the like.
Langona first discovered the VYCC when he spent two days with a crew during a camp program a few years ago. He decided to try for a regular spot himself after a VYCC representative spoke at Woodstock Union High School about the seven week summer program. “I’ve always wanted to be outside, and to give back to my community,” he says of his attraction to the group.
First, though, Langona had to make it through the VYCC’s screening process. The application he filled out asked questions about his accomplishments and experiences working with others. The most nerve-wracking part was a thirty minute telephone interview with the VYCC Youth Coordinator. Langona really, really wanted the job, so he invested some time to think about the things he does well, and why, and then to write out notecards. It was tough going, because Langona isn’t normally one to talk much about himself. “It took about three hours to write out those notecards, they were really detailed and in sentences so I wouldn’t stumble,” he says, “I had them all laid out, I read them over, and I said, ok, I’m ready for this.”
Langona admits to being a little embarrassed about the intensity of his preparation, he kept his notecards hidden in a drawer before and after the interview, but his method was successful, and he won the job. The first few days of work have been all that he expected. “It’s good people, good pay, and it’s just a lot of fun,” he says.
By Laura Power