Looking for work? Good luck

MILWAUKEE ���� Students seeking summer employment are learning a painful lesson: The best-paying jobs aren’t as plentiful as in years past, and competition for available positions is more intense.

In particular, summer job-seekers will find fewer employment prospects at manufacturing plants and high-tech companies _ two areas that provided many with gainful employment during the recent economic boom.

“Manufacturing and construction jobs haven’t taken off this year as they have in past years, and there will be more competition for summer jobs,” said Terry Ludenman, chief of local work force planning for the state Department of Workforce Development.

In recent years, high-tech companies have clamored for summer help as a way to give their year-round workers vacations and to groom students for permanent jobs later.

But with a softening economy, many companies are not opening their doors widely to summer help _ especially when it comes to higher-paying positions, said Liz Fredrichs, vice president of Waukesha Staffing Services, a regional employment agency.

“The job market is pretty soft right now compared to a year ago,” she said. “Many companies are trying not to lay off permanent staff, and where they need summer help it’s in the lower-paying positions.”

In Milwaukee, Marquette High School senior Jacob Frautschi said he received a lot of rejections before receiving a job offer to be a computer Web page technician at the Medical College of Wisconsin.

“Companies said either they weren’t hiring any more or they didn’t have open positions,” Frautschi said.

The Medical College job pays about $7 an hour, somewhat less than he hoped. But Frautschi said he believes the experience will be valuable when he enrolls at the University of Southern California in fall to study computer science.

“I might possibly find a second job this summer too,” said Frautschi, who last summer earned money cutting lawns and operating his own home-based computer technical support business.

Overall, Wisconsin’s work force expands by about 150,000 jobs every summer, according to the Department of Workforce Development.

In recent years, summer worker shortages have been severe in such tourism hot spots as Wisconsin Dells and Door County.

But even in the Dells, which requires more than 7,000 summer employees, the labor shortage is not as severe as usual, local business leaders say.

The Dells has cultivated a stronger year-round work force and has recruited at least 25% of its summer employees from overseas, said Tom Diehl, president of Tommy Bartlett Inc. and a veteran of the tourism industry.

“We are in better shape this year than ever,” Diehl said.

Door County tourism businesses also are well-staffed heading into the summer, said Karen Raymore, executive director of the Door County Chamber of Commerce.

“We are in better shape because so many employers started recruiting even in February,” she said. “There are still some worker shortages, but many employers have told me they are in great shape.”

Door County businesses raised their summer wages to attract workers from outside the area, and few employers are paying less than $8 per hour, Raymore said. Also, like the Dells, Door County has recruited college students from other states and Eastern Europe.

“The summer labor shortage was so critical in the past that we had to get more aggressive,” Raymore said.

Students who have experience with specific companies are better positioned to get the best jobs with those firms this summer, according to employment agencies and students in the job market.

Tiffany Hetzel said she’s returning for her third summer job at Quad/Graphics Inc. in Hartford, her hometown.

Hetzel is studying graphic arts at Waukesha County Technical College and hopes to land a permanent job at Quad/Graphics after she obtains a bachelor’s degree in graphics art management at her next educational stop ���� the University of Wisconsin-Stout.

Hetzel said she is fortunate to have a summer job in Quad/Graphic’s customer service department, because some of her classmates have had more trouble finding decent positions.

“I think employers are a little more reluctant to hire this summer,” she said. “I know enthusiasm counts when you are looking for a job now. You can’t just walk into a company any longer and expect to be hired.”

Although summer jobs are still plentiful in many service industries, some students might find they are competing for employment with workers who have lost their year-round jobs.

In Lake Geneva, for example, resorts said they have noticed an influx of job applicants who have been laid off from the Motorola cell-phone manufacturing plant in Harvard, Ill. That is a marked change from previous years when older adults showed no interest in summer jobs typically held by college students.

Earlier this year, Motorola eliminated 2,500 jobs at its Harvard plant, putting a dent in the rural northern Illinois economy.

In some fields, such as culinary arts, summer job-seekers are doing well. Jesus Balestena of Milwaukee recently landed a summer job working in a banquet kitchen at the American Club resort in Kohler.

Balestena is a culinary arts student at Waukesha County Technical College.”It wasn’t hard at all to find a job,” he said. “Actually, I had too many offers.”

Although tough on would-be workers, the tightening job market has been a boon to some employers who have found a much-improved pool of resumes from qualified individuals.

When the Wisconsin Lake Schooner Education Association recently advertised for a cook to work a few months on its schooner in Milwaukee, the association received more calls and applications than expected, said Kelly Spalding, marine operations coordinator.

“I was surprised,” she said. “They weren’t just college students. The feeling I had was some people had been looking for the right job for quite a while, and some of them came with a lot of experience.