Summer doldrums -- in finding employment

Summer doldrums -- in finding employment

July 8th, 2009 by Brittney McKenna in Business


* Hamilton County: 8.8 percent, up 0.6 percent from April

* Davidson County: 8.6 percent, up 0.6 percent

* Knox County: 8 percent, up 0.6 percent

* Shelby County: 9.6 percent, up 0.7 percent

Source: Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development

The summer job is a rite of passage for many high school and college students, but actually finding employment has become a job in itself.

Trenna Sharpe, a rising junior English and creative writing major at UTC, has been trying to find a job since May.

"Mainly I've been acting on word of mouth, just trying to keep my ears open to see if anybody is hiring," Ms. Sharpe said. "I talk to my friends who have jobs, but it seems like the general situation for most people is that one, they're not hiring, and that they're really not busy enough to bring in any new workers to meet the demand because there's not really a demand to meet."

With the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development reporting Hamilton County's unemployment rate at 8.8 percent for May, summer jobs for students like Ms. Sharpe are scarce.

Many jobs that would normally go to students are being filled by older job-seekers who cannot find work elsewhere from professional outlets or temp agencies.

"We have slowed down quite a bit," Heather Chambers, receptionist at Total Resource Staffing Services Inc. in Brainerd, said of the decreased demand for temp services during the recession.

Brian Beise, store manager of Clumpies Ice Cream Co., said he has definitely seen an increase in applicants since the economy took a turn for the worse.

"Before the start of the summer we probably had upwards of 30 applicants, easy," Mr. Beise said.

Of those applicants, only five were hired.

"We get a lot more exasperated applications," Mr. Beise said of the recession. "We'll have people walk in and kind of slap their hands down on the table and ask, 'Are you guys hiring?' Then they'll walk out the door looking upset. There are so many people just roaming looking for work."

Volunteering is an alternative for some who don't find summer employment.

Christina Koch, visitor center manager and volunteer coordinator at the Chattanooga Nature Center, also has seen an increase in interest during the recession, despite the fact that volunteering does not pay.

"We have some volunteers who are not in the work force for one reason or another who are looking for something to do with their time, to give back in some way or even to kind of update their skills, maybe help their resume," Mrs. Koch said.

Volunteer opportunities at the Nature Center include helping out with grounds work like trail maintenance and laying mulch along with office tasks like folding pamphlets and assembling membership packages.

Though the lack of summer jobs is certainly creating problems for many students, the rise in volunteer interest is a silver lining for organizations like the Nature Center.

"There's way more to be done than we can do ourselves, so we very much depend on the volunteers," Mrs. Koch said.

Like some of Mrs. Koch's volunteers, Ms. Sharpe is making the most of her time while unemployed, too.

"I'm helping out with this summer writer's conference that UTC is putting on," she said. "I've been doing that throughout the summer, and will be doing that full time for seven days in July."

Mr. Beise sees some good coming from the summer job slump as well.

"I've been with Clumpies for four summers now and I've noticed an amazing increase in work ethic," he said. "People are much less resistant to picking up shifts and to working a full day and to doing extra stuff. It's a whole different attitude that seems to have filtered down, which is a big change from my perspective."