Strong job market boosts Aurora teens’ options

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AURORA | Even at 15, when there were just a handful of jobs available to her, Carli Smith was determined to find summer work.

“I wanted to work from a really young age, I don’t really know why,” she said.

That summer, she started at an Aurora YMCA, working as a program instructor helping at various events before later landing a lifeguard job — one of more than 600 local young people spending their summers punching a clock at the Y.

Today, at 19, Smith is spending her fifth summer working at the Y, this time managing six local pools. “It’s more fulfilling to me if I’m moving along and I’m progressing,” she said.

Smith is one of many local young people finding a job market for young people that’s in much better shape than it was just a few years ago.

According to the Arapahoe Douglas Workforce Center, the unemployment rate this spring for people aged 16 to 24 was about 9 percent. That’s higher than the 3.1 percent rate for adults, but Suzie Miller, business services and economic development engagement manager at Arapahoe Douglas Works, said that’s to be expected because there are certain jobs that can’t hire minors because of various regulations. And, Miller said, the job market for teens is vastly improved compared to a few years ago because the overall job market has improved.

“We are in a full employment market, and businesses are struggling to recruit and fill talent needs,” she said. “That young adult population is an underutilized group in that labor force.”

A 2014 report from the Brookings Institution said youth employment “plummeted” during the recession. In Colorado, the report said that while 49 percent of people 16 to 19 years old had jobs in 2000, that number fell all the way to 32 percent by 2012.

Part of the problem facing young people at the time was an influx of older and more-experienced workers battling for the same part-time jobs that teens typically could rely on. Miller said that isn’t the case anymore and said a recent job fair hosted by the workforce center led to 250 young people landing jobs.

At the YMCA, Kimberly Armitage, executive director of the Aurora branch, said the YMCA didn’t see so much competition from older workers even during the recession. Instead, she said, the organization has been pretty consistent when it comes to teen hiring, particularly in the summer.

“We’ve done nothing but increase the number of teens we are hiring,” she said.

In addition to hiring, Armitage said the Y also offer programs to steer kids toward jobs, including mentoring and leadership training before they are old enough to hold most jobs.

One of those young people enrolled in the Y’s leadership programs is 14-year-old Savannah.

While there are a lot of jobs Coble can’t even apply for yet because of her age, she is volunteering at the Y this summer with eye toward applying for a job next summer.

“I feel like I’d be an asset,” she said.