Another tough year is in the offing for students trying to snag summer jobs, though
's improving tourism industry could make things a bit easier for those seeking employment in Central Florida.
Student applications are still competing with unemployed workers who, despite their workplace experience, might be willing to settle for temporary or seasonal positions. The latest federal statistics show that unemployment among 16-to-24-year-olds nationwide, though lower than this time last year, is still significantly higher than that of the rest of the population. Last month, for instance, 17.6 percent of the young people seeking jobs couldn't find them, compared with 7.6 percent of those age 25 or older.
But in Florida, Metro Orlando has been leading the way in job creation: Last month, for example, it claimed one-third of the jobs added statewide during the past year. And more than 90 percent of those new local jobs were generated by the leisure-and-hospitality industry, which includes theme parks, hotels and restaurants.
The tourism sector has added 5,200 jobs in the four-county metro area just since the start of the year.
"The theme parks in particular are hiring aggressively," said Scott Smith, an instructor at the Rosen College of Hospitality Management at the University of Central Florida. "Right now Universal and Disney are saying, 'Send us students. Send us lots of students.' "
Universal Orlando said earlier this month it plans to hire more than 1,000 seasonal workers to handle summer crowds.
Parks & Entertainment planned to fill 2,000 summer positions at its five Florida parks, which include SeaWorld Orlando,
World has been recruiting workers online for the summer season.
Ashley Thayer, a 19-year-old University of Central Florida student, has landed a job this summer helping lead children's activities at Disney's Saratoga Springs resort.
"It was fairly easy," Thayer, who is studying event management, said of her job hunt. "It's just a lot of waiting; it's a lot of time and patience." She said the Disney job required multiple interviews with company officials, for whom she had to demonstrate her ability to engage children.
Many other young people still face a difficult time finding work in an economy with uncomfortably high unemployment.
UCF student Peter Abascal has been job hunting for about a month; despite several leads and interviews, he hasn't scored yet.
"I'm trying to find that entry-level position, and it's tough," said Abascal, who one day wants to manage a country club. "With every job I've applied for, it seems like there's so many applicants for it."
High-schoolers have an even harder time than college students, according to national figures. Last summer, fewer than a million U.S. teens found jobs, said Bill Seyfried, an economics professor in
's MBA program. That was the fewest teens in the workplace since 1949, and a 40 percent decrease compared with 2006, before the recession.
"The last few years, they've had to compete with people much older than them," Seyfried noted. "A lot of teenagers have even given up looking for work."
Gary Earl, president and chief executive officer of Workforce Central Florida, said youth unemployment generally runs three to four times that of the adult rate. And as the adult rate rises, as it did during and after the 2007-09 recession, people become desperate for any kind of work, and that's bad news for teens.
"If you happen to be from a disadvantaged neighborhood, it's probably worse," Earl said. "It's tough out there, with the unemployment being what it is."
Workforce Central Florida operates a summer-employment program for disadvantaged youth, funded by federal tax dollars. The regional employment agency has 750 slots for teens at companies throughout Central Florida; this year, it received 2,755 applications before it took the form off its website due to the "overwhelming demand."
Students at Timber Creek High School in east Orange County face multiple issues in looking for summer employment, school counselor Alice Gordon said. In addition to the intense competition for jobs and the presence of older applicants vying for the same positions, teens must deal with how to get to and from work.
"One concern for our students is the limited number of places to work in the area. Transportation is a challenge for those who do not have cars," Gordon said. "Most students do feel that there are opportunities to find a job, but it is hard because you have to go farther away from where you live."
For those who can't find a job, creating one is always a possibility, said Craig Polejes, president of Junior Achievement of Central Florida, which runs work-readiness, financial-literacy and entrepreneurship programs in area schools. Whether it's a lemonade stand or a baby-sitting service, there are ways for teens to become entrepreneurs, he said.
Those who don't want to be their own boss need to learn ways to sell themselves to an employer —something Junior Achievement tries to teach students, Polejes said.
"Having a marketing understanding, not just for products or services but of themselves, is critical," he said. "A young person can be an excellent student, ... but if they don't have the skills to present themselves, they can sell themselves short."