When Andre Channel visited high schools in the Portland area this past year, he noticed something.
“Kids want to work,” Channel said.
Channel is a talent engagement specialist with Portland Parks & Recreation. In his job, he goes to school and community events to meet potential teen employees face to face.
“I think a lot of it is the money, but I also think it’s the downtime — ‘it’s summer, what am I going to do this summer?’”
Through his interactions with teens across the city, he’s hoping to take some of the mystery out of applying for a job at an organization with hundreds of employees.
“A lot of times with city jobs, you don’t really know anyone from the city, you’re just applying blindly,” Channel said. “To be able to go to schools and introduce myself and build relationships with young people has really benefited us this year.”
As summer begins, there are jobs available for Oregon teens who want to work. National data predicts an increase in the percentage of 16- to 19-year-olds working this summer, and in Oregon, a low unemployment rate with thousands of jobs available has created a strong market for young people to seek work.
At the city’s parks bureau, Channel’s work is specific to jobs in the aquatics department — mainly lifeguards. This summer, the outreach has paid off.
“Last year [… ] at this time, we were probably at about 200 or 250 or so applicants,” Channel said. “This time, now this year, we’re at almost 400 applicants, which is great.”
New applicants plus returning staff puts numbers at more than 600, Channel said, bringing the department’s 11 pools even closer to being fully staffed. Before the pandemic, parks officials said there would be “nearly 800″ aquatics staff.
The Portland Parks Levy, approved by voters in 2020, has removed another barrier for potential employees: Training is free for any potential lifeguard or swim instructor.
Both in Oregon and across the country, the participation rates of teens in the workforce have seen a decline since the 2000s. They went up again starting in 2015 only to drop again once COVID hit. But that number is going back up again. An OED article from 2022 charts that trend.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the rate for 16- to 19-year-olds hit 36.8% in 2022, “the highest since 2009,” according to Rhode Island College, which compiled national data into it’s “2023 Summer Job Outlook for American Teens” report. In Oregon, it was a little above the national average, at 37.7%.
“We’re adding jobs, there’s still a lot of job availabilities,” said Anna Johnson, senior economic analyst for the Oregon Employment Department, “and we don’t have a lot of people to fill them.”
At 3.7%, Johnson said the unemployment rate is close to record lows. At the same time, there are thousands of open jobs.
For teens, Johnson said the job outlook is similar to what it is for everyone — “relatively positive.”
“We have pretty steady job growth and there are still some industries that have yet to reach back to where they were in February 2020,” Johnson said.
“So they’re still trying to add those jobs back even though as a whole, we’ve surpassed the number of jobs we had prior to the recession.”
Some of those industries are the same ones young people might be looking into for summer jobs, including food service and retail.
Despite a downward trend in retail jobs due to the closure of brick and mortar stores, Johnson said there are still almost 8,000 vacancies in the industry in Oregon.
The number of jobs is still not where it used to be before the pandemic, but there are still jobs available, Johnson said.
“With low numbers of unemployed persons, the opportunity is there for young Oregonians to find work,” Johnson shared.
Being out at schools and in classrooms, Channel with Portland parks said this summer feels different from last year.
“I think there was still a little bit of apprehension going on, and people were still wearing masks,” Channel said. “I just think there was a lot of confusion still.”
This year, he’s been getting emails from students who applied for aquatics jobs, asking about the status of their application.
“Talking to students, you can hear that they’re excited to work.”