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Employment rate declines for teens

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014 11:40 p.m. CDT

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WOODSTOCK – Desiree Gomez was 16 and searching.

The Woodstock High School senior remembers the uneasiness that came with her hunt for employment. She’d been clicking around online, typing her name into job search engines. She went to several interviews without a call back.

“I was 16 and so into wanting to get a job, but not knowing what to do,” Gomez said.

It’s a feeling striking many high school teens lately. In Illinois, teen employment rates shrunk to 27 percent in 2012, down from 37 percent in 2006 – before the recession – according to a new report by the Chicago Alternative Schools Network. The numbers are even with the national decline.

“Employers are having such large numbers of people applying for jobs that a lot of times teens get shoved to the back of the priority list for others who have more skills or experience,” said Barbara Billimack, lead youth career adviser at the McHenry County Workforce Network.

The tough conditions can be discouraging for youth, but Billimack encourages teens to be persistent.

For Gomez, taking that advice to heart paid off.

She entered the McHenry County Workforce Youth Program in June 2012, and learned interview skills and the intricacies of filling out applications.

And she gained the confidence to pick up applications in person, giving herself that initial chance to be noticed.

The result: “I got hooked up with a job a couple months later,” Gomez said.

She’s been working since at Jaci’s Cookies on the Woodstock Square.

The little touches Gomez used are huge in a job market flooded with applicants, said Anna Olas, human resource manager with the Crystal Lake Park District.

Olas, who manages a department that takes between 300 and 400 applications for seasonal summer work each year, said it’s all about how you present yourself to an employer: from your attire and confidence to the neatness of your application’s penmanship.

And being visible – presenting yourself, not sending a parent – is key.

“We want to see the applicants themselves,” Olas said. “We want to know that they’re interested in the job.”

Many of the park district’s jobs are filled by returning employees, but the department has posted eight jobs so far and will post more as Memorial Day approaches, Olas said.

For those who try unsuccessfully to find summer work, Billimack suggests they continue bettering their resumes in other ways, entering clubs and pursuing volunteer opportunities.

“Things like that, so they can build those skills so they have something to talk about when they do have an interview,” she said.

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