Teen workers are in high demand this summer, forcing some Long Island businesses to offer higher pay and other incentives to compete for the seasonal workers they need.
A tight labor market overall has made staffing up for the summer season challenging. Long Island businesses said the next three months will be the closest they’ve had to a “normal” summer in two years, compounding the need for a full teen workforce.
“We usually have a surplus of applications,” said Roger Rutherford, general manager of the Port Jefferson Frigate. Historically, the ice cream parlor has had anywhere from 30 to 50 extra applicants for summer jobs.
“For the first time in a long, long time, we don’t have that surplus,” Rutherford said. In fact, he was about 10 employees short as of last week.
He’s not alone.
At the end of April, employers across the country posted 11.4 million open jobs, nearly two openings for every jobless American, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The Frigate, which sells a wide array of baked goods, candy and ice cream next to Port Jefferson Harbor, typically hires about 45 staffers, mostly high school and college students, for its summer business.
Right now, it’s operating with 35.
“For the first time in years we had to pay for advertising,” said Rutherford, who’s been with the Frigate for nearly three decades. “We found ourselves in that same pool of employers that are going to places like Indeed placing ads for help.”
Online job boards and increased wages have helped with rehiring teen workers from previous summers, he said.
“More competitive pay is something that we have offered, especially with [returning] employees,” Rutherford said. “We incentivize them a little bit more.”
And while he might not have a stack of several dozen extra candidates lined up, he said he expected the end of school to make for some good last-minute hires.
Shital Patel, labor market analyst with the state's Labor Department office in Hicksville, said teen hires might be harder to find for some of the same reasons adult workers are harder to recruit this year.
"Competition for workers is high and that extends to teen workers and summer workers as well,” Patel said.
As adult workers who were in customer-facing, service industry jobs have had the opportunity to pursue work in other fields, she said, it's likely they have left entry-level openings attractive to teen workers.
“Older people who have the option to move into [other] jobs have done so,” she said. “So, a lot of positions that employers would have typically filled with full-time adult workers ... could be filled with more temporary teen workers.”
Steven Kent, economics professor at Molloy University, said that the Island's record low unemployment rate is having far-reaching effects on businesses.
“When unemployment is this low, the impact is very, very broad,” Kent said. “The need for employees whether they are part-time, full-time, teens or adults … it affects the whole market, not a particular segment.”
On top of that, Kent said demand from consumers for summer experiences like visiting amusement parks after more than two years of the pandemic is likely making competition for seasonal workers more intense.
“Demand this summer is exceptionally high for experiences and the consumer has switched from buying products to buying services, and services need employees especially over the summer,” Kent said. “They need to staff at a much, much higher level.”
For Ronnie Kuznetz, owner of family-run Driftwood Day Camp in Melville, the effort to fill the camp’s roughly 400 positions this year went slower than usual.
“Up until about a month ago, we were really concerned about filling all the spots,” he said.
The camp tried to get the word out about job openings any way it could, Kuznetz said, including social media, asking staffers who are teachers to place fliers at their schools, attending high school job fairs, and asking camp staff to help recruit friends.
“We’ve placed testimonials from current and past staff on social media almost every day on a regular basis,” he said.
The camp held its own job fair in early May where it found 10 hires. Soon after, it received several calls from applicants, but it wasn’t until two weeks ago that the applicants really began pouring in.
“All these people came out of the woodwork,” Kuznetz said. It wasn't a moment too soon either, as the first day of camp was Monday. “You never know what’s going to happen in the end,” he said.
As of last week, Splish Splash was "pretty close" to its hiring goal but still had openings to fill, said Danielle Trombetta, director of marketing. The Calverton water park hires 800 to 1,000 seasonal workers, the overwhelming majority of whom are teens.
“We’re still looking for lifeguards, maintenance workers, park services, parking lot attendants and group sales [personnel],” she said.
Splish Splash has been advertising an hourly wage of up to $19 an hour.
The water park isn't the only employer trying to entice lifeguards with higher pay.
On Wednesday, Gov. Kathy Hochul said the state is raising pay for lifeguards at its pools, beaches and campgrounds to address a staffing shortage. For some lifeguards on Long Island, pay will increase 21% from $18.15 an hour to $22.
Trombetta said Splish Splash has also been active in local job fairs this year, even running promotions where new hires were eligible for season passes.
The park is now running a program where employees receive 12 guest passes for working at least 30 days, she said. It also introduced a $2,000 scholarship for which employees can compete.
“Compared to last season, [hiring] has been better for us,” said Trombetta. “That could be partially due to some of the incentives that we added this year.”
While incentives certainly are one way to attract Zoomers — members of Generation Z — in the tight job market, many young applicants are looking for the same things older jobseekers are.
For Marissa Armato, 18, of Dix Hills, flexibility was a priority when she applied for a seasonal position at Adventureland in Melville.
Armato, who attends the University of South Carolina, said with school work and making time for friends and family, she needed a job that would offer flexibility.
Hearing the experiences of friends made her more selective in her job search.
“I had some friends that worked at pizzerias or clothing stores near my house,” said Armato, who is pursuing a degree in business management. They told her their schedules are changed without warning and taking days off is a hassle. “When I heard the types of requirements for those jobs it just didn’t fit my needs,” she said.
A recommendation from her brother, who also works at Adventureland, helped Armato narrow her search. Days after returning home in early May, she got an interview at Adventureland and was working as a ride operator shortly after.
“I one hundred percent see myself coming back next season,” she said.