Teenagers are entering the Maine workforce

Ahrihanna Bentley is 14 and working her first job at the Nonantum Resort in Kennebunkport. Bentley is part of a wave of young, teenage workers entering Maine’s workforce as employers scramble to fill job vacancies. Ben McCanna / Personal Photographer

Ahrihanna Bentley loves her first job. She spends her days working with children and adults at the Nonantum Resort in Kennebunkport – making bracelets, doing crafts, catching crabs, kayaking and cooking pizza.

At 14, Bentley earns an hourly wage well above minimum wage and is saving to buy a car. She’s not alone, part of a growing cohort of young teens joining Maine’s workforce in record numbers.

“Many of my friends find jobs. My best friend was hired today and the others are also looking for jobs,” Bentley said. At the end of her summer concert at the Nonantum, she plans to find a new job for the fall and winter.

“A lot of people my age are looking for independence and a salary that’s theirs to spend as they see fit,” Bentley said. “I think it’s really unfair that people say teenagers are lazy. Most of us try really hard in school to be able to get a job.

The number of 14- and 15-year-olds entering the job market is expected to hit a new high this year as employers facing labor shortages scramble to fill vacancies.

Maine employers applied for nearly 4,800 underage work permits — needed to hire teenagers under 16 — in the first half of the year, surpassing the 2021 record and far exceeding the annual average for applications permits from the previous two decades.

The growing interest in working teens is a sign of how hotels, restaurants, retail and entertainment companies are being tapped to fill job vacancies, said Greg Dugal, director of government affairs at Hospitality Maine. , a trade group.

“I really think it’s the fact that most people have 60 to 75 percent staff and they feel like they can’t go beyond that,” Dugal said. “At that point you start looking for alternatives, you take away any stereotypes you might have.”

In recent years, employers have been reluctant to hire teenagers so young because of state restrictions on where and when they can work, resistance to paying them as much as adults, and the perception young workers are unreliable.

That reluctance appears to be eroding, Dugal said. In 2021, employers were approved for more than 6,500 teen work permits, the highest number on record and nearly 40% more than two years ago.

More than a third of these young workers applied for jobs in the restaurant and hospitality industry, an industry still recovering from a gigantic loss of labor at the start of the coronavirus pandemic more than two years.

Older workers have moved from typically low-paying positions in restaurants and hotels to better-paying and more prestigious jobs in industry and elsewhere. That leaves a chasm that teenage workers can help fill, even if they can’t do everything in a restaurant or hotel, Dugal said.

“That was always the catch. Employers don’t want to hire someone that young because of the restrictions. Ultimately, ultimately, it’s not a decision they can make anymore. »

In Maine, 14- and 15-year-olds are prohibited from working in many hazardous industries and performing certain tasks in kitchens and hotels. Young workers can work in a hotel lobby or an office, for example, but cannot clean rooms or make room deliveries. They can clean the tables, clean the floors, prepare drinks and cook on grills and stoves without an open flame – but they cannot cook, use a deep fryer or high-speed ovens or work in freezers.

In order to obtain a work permit, teenagers under the age of 16 must have good grades and school attendance and permits signed by their parents and school superintendents..

The hours they can work are also limited. During the summer holidays, miners can work 40 hours a week from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., but no more than six consecutive days. When school is in session, they are limited to 18 hours a week and three hours a day on school days, including Fridays.

Matthew Levin has been reluctant to hire young workers at the three Camden hotels he manages precisely because they are not allowed to do everything he needs.

This summer, he makes an exception and creates a position for a teenager who will soon be 16 years old. Overall, hiring has been better this year than last, Levin added. At least now, if he posts a job, he’ll entice applicants to interview and maybe show up for work. But he sees advantages in hiring young people.

“We would be open to hiring more at this age,“, Lévin said. “I think it’s a very capable age to hire who is always ready to do a good job, moldable, impressionable.

It’s no surprise that some teens want to get a job now, given that fierce competition for workers has sent hourly wages skyrocketing since the pandemic began. Throughout Maine, the de facto minimum wage is $15 an hour, well above the official minimum of $12.75. Many places advertise a starting hourly wage of between $18 and $20.

This brought out young workers in droves. Last year, high school athletic directors rushed to reschedule fall athletic practices to accommodate busy teens earning a paycheck.

“Employers are doing everything they can to attract people, including improving benefits and offering wages above minimum wage. It can be really appealing to a young person who is potentially considering finding a job or a summer job,” Maine Department of Labor spokeswoman Jessica Picard said.

The Nonantum Resort in Kennebunkport hires at least 10 kids a year, mostly to watch young children as activity counselors.

Working with young teenagers has its challenges, said innkeeper Jean Gin Marvin. Their attention spans can be limited, overbearing parents can be stressful, and inevitably, some teen workers go on family summer trips without their shifts covered.

But for Marvin, getting those kids out the door and earning their first paycheck is worth the occasional headache.

“They might not be ideal workers when they’re 14 and 15, but when they’re 16 and 17, they’re pretty great,” Marvin said. “I feel like we are planting the garden of the future.”

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Michael A. Bynum