Finding work around Colorado Springs has been a tough task for young job seekers

March 2, 2014 Updated: March 2, 2014 at 2:10 pm
photo - Brian Wangati, 22, right, grills hamburgers while general manager Ela Lipka prepares an order during the lunch rush Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2014, at Five Guys Burger and Fries on North Academy Blvd. Wangati has been working at the Colorado Springs restaurant for three months. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)
Brian Wangati, 22, right, grills hamburgers while general manager Ela Lipka prepares an order during the lunch rush Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2014, at Five Guys Burger and Fries on North Academy Blvd. Wangati has been working at the Colorado Springs restaurant for three months. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock) 

There was a time when young people could easily find a summer job - the kind that required little or no experience, and drew scant interest from more seasoned workers.

But that was before the Great Recession, which sent unemployment soaring, erased home values and retirement portfolios. Although the economy has been rebounding, the recession left its mark. Seniors are working longer, and the long-term unemployed are taking the entry-level jobs they once shunned. The result: A large number of job seekers ages 16 to 24 have been forced out of the workplace.

Recently, the Pikes Peak Workforce Center sent out a plea to employers in El Paso and Teller counties, asking them to take part in the Governor's Summer Job Hunt Young Adult Job Fairs. Summer jobs for teens are "disappearing," it said in a news release.

It may be overstating the situation, but competition for summer jobs is still expected to be tough again this summer, and the numbers indicate it's not easy for young people to find work.

At the end of last year, 22.8 percent of workers ages 16 to 19 were unemployed, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The bureau also reported that 21.8 percent of those 18 to 19 years old and 12.4 percent of those 20 to 24 years old who were looking for work couldn't find jobs. Those numbers were higher than in 2012.

Bob Gemignani, business specialist for the Pikes Peak Workforce Center, said getting the nation's youths back to work won't be easy, because of several factors affecting the job market:

- Older people are putting off retirement because of uncertainty about the economy and the amount of money they'll get out of their homes and investments. Housing values haven't fully recovered to pre-recession levels, reducing future retirement revenues that seniors could count on when selling their homes. And lower interest rates on such investments as CDs and bonds have hit their retirement income.

- A shortage of new, high-paying jobs has pushed unemployed adults into low-paying position usually reserved for high school and college students.

- Some employers are unwilling to hire inexperienced workers because of the need for high worker productivity.

- Companies have cut training budgets.

- Many older workers who were laid off don't have up-to-date skills, so they take the unskilled jobs that used to go to younger workers.

"Because their skill sets are not there for current jobs, these older workers are eroding the low-skilled jobs, and there is more competition for those jobs," Gemignani said.

In December, the state's unemployment rate was 6.2 percent. For those 16 to 19 years old, however, the rate was 26.2 percent, and 12.9 percent for 20 to 24 years old.

Gemignani and other employment and economic experts worry that the inability of young workers to secure a job is robbing them of necessary skills they'll need later, which could lead to long-term unemployment or underemployment.

It also means they don't get the chance to learn basic working skills.

"When we were young and someone took that chance on us it meant we learned those lessons we use today," said Pikes Peak Community College President Lance Bolton.

PPCC student Brittani Lee, 22, works as an assistant to the human resource manager at the Garden of the Gods Club and Resort. She got the full-time position in June after doing an internship with the company, and said the job has helped her develop communication, organizational and other skills she would not have gotten as a student.

It has also taught her those "soft-skills" employers seek in workers but often have difficulty finding.

"Sometimes I have to handle write-ups involving people I have relationships with outside of work, but even if they are a friend or not, you have to hold them accountable for what they do," Lee said.

Bolton, said his first job taught him responsibility and accountability - even though he got fired.

"I didn't meet the expectations of arriving on time, leaving at the right time, and doing the job as necessary," he said, "and it was better to learn that in a little country store in Waynesboro, Ga., than in a job later."

The job taught Bolton other things, also, such as a sense of self-worth and pride, something that can erode quickly in the chronically unemployed - especially men, he said.

"We all know what it is like not to have a job and how difficult, especially in this society, it can be," he said. "(And) men very often see their self-worth as a little more related to their earnings power than women do."

No one disputes the importance of summer jobs for young people, but the reality is, there may not be enough to meet demand.

The city of Colorado Springs plans to hire seasonal workers as Park Safety Patrol officers inside the Garden of the Gods. But competition for those jobs is expected to be intense, said Bret Tennis, parks operations administrator. He expects very few to be filled by college students.

"We used to rely almost fully on college students," he said, "but in the past few years we are getting people of all ages, anywhere from those who are in retirement ages and younger."

The same type of demographic shift in workers is occurring at many restaurants across the region.

"There is definitely a change in the workforce, and that change has kind of pushed out the younger kids," said Jeff Parker, who owns three local Five Guys Burgers and Fries franchise locations and is opening a fourth.

Case in point: Of the 32 employees at his restaurant on North Academy Boulevard, seven are 18 to 21, and three are under 18.

"It has gotten more competitive for the younger guys and gals 'cause we have more people to choose from," he said, "and we are always looking for the best candidate we can find, regardless of age and experience, and the older guys have more experience by default."


Contact Ned Hunter: 636-0275



The Pikes Peak Workforce Center is holding the following job fairs for ages 16 to 21

- 11 a.m.-4:30 p.m. April 3

Colorado Springs DoubleTree Hotel,

1775 E. Cheyenne Mountain Blvd,

- 1-5 p.m. April 8

Ute Pass Cultural Center

210 E. Midland Ave., Woodland Park

- Noon-4 p.m. April 30

166 E. Bennett Ave., Cripple Creek

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