LENOX -- The economy is moving toward recovery, but summer job prospects for the state's youngest workers are dismal.
The number of teens with jobs in Massachusetts fell 28 percent between 1999 and 2012.
This summer, only one in four teens between the ages of 16 and 19 is projected to find a job, according to a report by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University.
The projection would mirror last summer's teen employment rate. But times have changed: In the summer of 1999, one out of every two teenagers had a summer job.
The new report on teen employment prospects was conducted by the Boston-based Commonwealth Corporation, an agency associated with the state Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development.
The exact teen employment rate for Berkshire County was not available on Friday, but Heather Boulger, the director of the Berkshire Regional Employment Board, said the local percentage is "really close" to the state's rate.
Commonwealth Corporation President and CEO Nancy L. Snyder characterized this summer's teen job market in Massachusetts as "pretty challenging."
"I think we're seeing recovery in a lot of sectors, including some that teens are in," said Snyder, who presented the report's findings at the Massachusetts Workforce Board Association's annual meeting at Cranwell Resort, Spa & Golf Club.
"But I think the challenge is a lot of new college graduates are having a hard time finding college labor market jobs," she said. "So they're pushing into those retail, fast food, supermarket jobs, which means it's harder for teens to get them."
Also hampering the teen job market is the number of working adults who put off retirement when the economy collapsed five years ago.
The employment rate for Massachusetts adults age 55 and over was 33.3 percent in 1999 -- 21 points below that year's teen employment rate. In 2012, the employment rate for adults in that age group was 40.7 percent, 14 points higher than it was for teens.
"I think the dynamic may be a little different in the Berkshires," Snyder said. "But we have a lot of deferred retirements. That's where we've blocked the labor market in a lot of ways. New college graduates, young adults, they're pushing into the teen labor market. So we've got a situation where the teen labor market is at the bottom of the queue."
John Barrett III, the director of the BerkshireWorks Career Center, said a state-funded work force readiness program will provide jobs for 57 teens in Pittsfield this summer, three more than last year. If the Legislature approves funding in the supplemental budget that is slated for work force development, Barrett said BerkshireWorks could provide jobs for an additional 15 to 20 youngsters.
BerkshireWorks expects to receive some $107,000 in funding for teen summer jobs this summer.
Boulger said Berkshire County has always had an youth internship program to supply jobs for teenagers during the summer, but needs to a better job of connecting teens to employers.
"We need to get more and more employers to commit to provide working and learning experiences," she said.
Snyder said that teens looking for summer jobs are more likely to get hired if they apply in person.
"They need to be very aggressive and they need to look at multiple places," she said. "They need to go into stores or restaurants and introduce themselves to the manager. That manager or store owner may tell them they have to apply online, but it's really important to not do only online applications.
"You can't find a job through your computer," Snyder said.
How employers view teens:
The Commonwealth Corporation's results of a survey that asked employers how they perceived teenaged workers:
83 percent of employers believe teens have better computer skills than adults.
76 percent: Disagree that it takes longer to train teens that it does adults.
54 percent: Believe that teen's sales and customer service skills are just as strong, if not stronger, than adults when applying for entry level positions.
53 percent: Disagree that teens reading, writing and math skills are weaker than adults.
74 percent of employers believe that teen time commitments and work restrictions are obstacles.
53 percent: Agree that teens are more likely to quit jobs.
52 percent: Agree that teens are more likely to miss work when scheduled.
49 percent: Believe that teens have less initiative to seek out new duties after completing a task.
45 percent: Agree that teens are less likely to be on time for work.
When it comes to hiring teens
86 percent of employers cite a referral from a current employee influences hiring decisions.
77 percent: Reference from a school or local jobs organization.
68 percent: Recommendation from a teacher.
64 percent: Referral by personal friend, neighbor, relative or colleague.
45 percent: Reluctant to hire teens who lack work experience.
Source: Commonwealth Corporation
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