Hudson Mitchell, 22, knows the value that seasonal employment can bring young adults beyond the pleasure of a paycheck.
But working a summer job is something fewer young people are doing than in the past 30 years.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the number of people ages 16 to 24 years old working summer jobs peaked in 1989.
Mitchell, a North Hall High graduate who now attends Young Harris College, is working this summer as a supervisory counselor for Gainesville Parks and Recreation’s day camp for kids.
The work brings her opportunities to interact with the community and educate children while having fun.
“I like being a positive influence,” Mitchell said.
The city’s parks department currently employs 80 part-time seasonal workers filling 23 positions, such as lifeguards, water safety instructors, concessionaires, ticket booth operators, front desk staff and day camp counselors.
But it’s becoming more difficult to fill these positions, officials said, for a number of reasons.
Zandrea Stephens, the interim division manager at Frances Meadows Aquatic Center in Gainesville, said requiring online applications has limited the employee pool, though perhaps it’s also weeded out poor candidates for important jobs.
But the parks department also has strict drug-testing requirements and mandated safety training that are not common in retail and restaurant jobs, which also employ lots of young people.
Scheduling conflicts are also limiting the pool of applicants for summer jobs.
In particular, many youth sports and associated training run year-round nowadays.
The offseason is a bit of a thing of the past for young basketball, baseball, soccer and football players, for example, who attend specialty camps for those sports during the summer.
And even some schools begin sports practice during the summer months to prepare for the fall season.
Last year, young people working as camp counselors, lifeguards and even retail jobs had dropped below 61 percent, a 17 percent decline from three decades prior, according to labor department data.
And only 4 in 10 teenagers are now working summer gigs compared with 7 in 10 in 1978.
Working for parks and recreation, however, provides essential values and experience that young people can carry over into their long-term careers, Stephens said, such as customer service skills. It can also help young people identify career choices.
Bailey Morrison, 15, a lifeguard at Frances Meadows just two weeks now into her first job ever, said she is enjoying the sense of responsibility and independence work is providing.
“It helps me learn responsibility, definitely, and just seeing how the world actually is,” she said, adding that meeting new people, having new experiences and maturing beyond the tutelage of her parents are important at her age. “It’s been great. I love it.”
Elizabeth Wimbish, 17, first began working as a lifeguard at Frances Meadows two years ago.
Earning her own keep has made her more responsible and mature faster, she said.
“I learn how to spend money better because I realize it’s my own money,” Wimbish added. “Money doesn’t grow on trees. I’m working hard for it.”