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Teens discover tough job market and that networking is key

Rachel Lawton work in the kitchen Tuesday at McMillan's Restaurant on First Street South in Willmar. They are among 10 teenages who work at the restuarant. Owner Ron Guetter said connections definitely help teens looking for employment there as he often hires people based on recommendations from other employees or people he knows. Tribune photo by Gary Miller

WILLMAR -- Teens may need to rely more heavily on networking and good luck to land summer jobs this year.

More than 35,000 Minnesota teens looking for jobs last summer ended their search unsuccessfully and another 15,000 settled for part-time jobs working fewer hours than desired, according to an analysis of Census Bureau Current Population Survey data from June to August 2011 by Northeastern's Center for Labor Market Studies.

Rita Borchert, youth program manager for Central Minnesota Jobs and Training Services, said the job outlook isn't any better this year. The nonprofit employment and training agency serves 11 counties in the region.

Older people are working longer and filling those positions, Borchert said. Usually when college students go home, high school students in the college towns can slide into those fast food and retail positions, but it's just not happening.

However, a few teens -- by networking or pure luck -- were fortunate enough to land jobs in Kandiyohi County this summer.

Rachel Johnson, 19, said an ad in the newspaper led her to her summer job at the Country Stop produce stand, where she's working about 36 hours a week.

Johnson hopes to save money for college. She is attending the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities to pursue a degree in family social sciences and youth studies.

It only took Johnson two weeks to find and secure the job, but her hunt for a second job hasn't been as easy.

For more than a month, Johnson has been searching for a replacement job or an additional job for extra money. Her search thus far has been unsuccessful.

With many college students leaving school and coming back to the area looking for summer jobs, Johnson said she will take anything that's open.

"People are realizing there aren't as many jobs out there," Borchert said.

She said she has parents calling her in early spring telling her their teens need summer jobs. She encourages them to access available resources, like the services at the state Workforce Centers, which can help them develop a resume and interview skills. She also suggests talking with parents and family friends about job openings.

"Jobs are still about networking and who you know," she said.

This rings true at McMillan's Restaurant in Willmar, which employs about 10 teenagers.

Owner Ron Guetter said connections definitely help. He often hires people based on recommendations from other employees or people he knows.

Applicants with connections may have better chances of being hired, but Guetter also gives others a chance, even those without previous experience or connections.

"We look for people that are outgoing and people that are involved in activities at school," he said.

But with former employees coming back from school to work each summer, McMillan's, like many other businesses, has a low turnover rate.

Guetter said he will be losing three employees this fall, and those jobs will likely go to high school students or new college students at Ridgewater College.

He advises teens to keep trying and checking back on applications.

"It shows that you really want a job," he said.