Chattanooga program to help teens find work

Chattanooga program to help teens find work

May 31st, 2014 by Alex Green in Business Around the Region


WHAT: A collaboration between the City of Chattanooga and the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce to provide hard and soft job training for unemployed Chattanooga teens.

Contact: Interested parties should contact Angela Daniels, Youth and Family Development career development coordinator at 423-643-6804 or Brian Smith at 423-643-6096,

It's Friday afternoon, and three Chattanooga teenagers - Jay Watkins, Kayla Wells and Christine Montgomery - know the score.

Trying to find a job in this city, in this economy -- it's hard. It can be exhausting, discouraging and frustrating.

The U.S. ureau of Labor Statistics reports that in April the national unemployment rate for 16- to 19-year-olds was 17.7 percent -- nearly triple the average adult rate last month of 6.3 percent.

A recent study by the Brookings Institute showed that only one in four of those age 16 to 19 in Chattanooga had jobs in 2012, or only half the share of similar-age workers with jobs in Chattanooga in 2000.

It's real life, not just numbers and statistics for Chattanooga's working-age youth.

"It was kind of devastating, walking in thinking, 'I might get it, and I might not,'" said Watkins about dropping off an application earlier this year.

So he gave Temps for Teens a shot.

It's the Chattanooga Department of Youth and Family Development's three-day program designed to teach and train teens, helping them develop hard and soft skills needed to excel at resume-making, interviewing and hopefully landing a job.

The training sessions started Wednesday and ran through Friday afternoon.

"I applied with hope," Watkins said Friday afternoon.

Christine Montgomery applied with "just a prayer, pretty much."

Kayla Wells heard about Temps for Teens third-hand. She turned 16 in March and has been unsuccessfully looking for work.

"[Family members of a friend] brought it up to me because I had been on a job search," she said.

The three said in their combined recent job searches, they haven't had any luck.

Larry Green, labor market analyst at the Tennessee Department of Labor, thinks he can explain.

"I think maybe what we're looking at is a combination of a couple of factors," he said.

When the national economy fell into recession in 2008-2009, many full-time employed adults lost their jobs.

In need of income, many of them took lower-paying, entry-level jobs -- the ones teenagers look for when summer comes around, or when they need a little extra money during the school year.

Many full-time employed adults also have taken on part-time jobs to get ahead, or to pay off debt. And those more experienced, more qualified workers are taking up even more of the jobs than teenagers typically fill.

"You have competition for a single job from several different sources that maybe you didn't have before," said Green.

Green also looks at high-demand times, like the holiday season. Many employers typically hire on seasonal staff at low cost to get through the rush.

But that's taken a hit, too.

"It still goes up, but it doesn't go up as much, because the permanent workers say 'I need that Christmas money,'" he said.

Employers can pay those permanent workers overtime and avoid the cost of hiring on new workers, paying to train them and waiting out the learning curve period.

"Permanent workers are working longer hours, and that's knocking out a lot of youths," Green said.

In addition, teens are limited by what they can do at a job because of state and federal labor laws.

Tennessee child labor laws prevent 16- and 17-year-olds from working past 10 p.m. on school nights, unless given written permission from a parent or guardian. And even with guardian consent, minors can not work past midnight during the school year more than three times between Sunday and Thursday, considered school nights.

The U.S. Fair Labor Standards Act also prevents minors from working in any occupation deemed hazardous, and forbades minors operating dangerous equipment. U.S. law also bans minors from selling alcohol.

"Simply put, the number of jobs that are out there that will even employ teenagers are limited," he said.

But even so, Watkins, Wells and Montgomery are not ready to throw in the towel. If anything, they're rejuvinated after this past week.

"I wasn't very confident until this program let me know that I can be a leader, and I can do the things I put my mind to," said Wells.

One after another, the three talked Friday afternoon about a renewed confidence going back out into the job scene.

They say now they know what employers are looking for, what they want to see in an applicant and on a resume. They say they know how to dress when they get a callback.

And they know it's not impossible to find a job, even with the breaks against them.

That's why Youth and Family Development is doing Temps for Teens, said Brian Smith, the department's public relations coordinator.

On June 5, student participants will interview with the businesses who have agreed to partner with the city for Temps for Teens.

It's fewer than program directors hoped for. They asked for 160 businesses and got less than 10.

But it's not too late for businesses to jump on board and take part in the interviews next week, said Smith.

The city has already hired 100 teens. But the program wound up with 170 students instead of the estimated 125, and Smith said the goal was initially to have enough businesses that each could hire one of the teenagers.

Right now the odds are against it. But that's been the story for many of these teens all along.

"No pressure on us," said Smith.

Contact staff writer Alex Green at or 423-757-6480.