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Durham youth seek summer employment

This year’s Mayor’s Summer Youth Work Program saw record numbers of Durham youth seeking summer employment but low turnout from employers.

In its sixth year, the fair attracted hundreds of local Durham youth ages 14 to 21 wearing formal attire—many for the first time­—in the hopes of landing summer employment. Eighteen local public organizations, such as Durham Parks and Recreation and the fire department, set up booths at the fair to promote this summer work programs for students.

“There are various city and county departments that make up this group of employers to try and ensure that young people have the opportunity to work,” said Evelyn Scott, senior community relations coordinator of the Office of the City Manager. “We’re continuing to see an increase in the number of applications we’re receiving.”

Kim Moss, assistant youth services program coordinator, said that the economic downturn has made it difficult to find local companies to participate in the city’s summer work program. It costs approximately $3,000 to hire a student for eight weeks, but Moss said the cost is justified by the effort and energy that young people bring to their positions and by the way youth employment benefits the community.

In previous years, the fair drew support from local private companies, but this year only public organizations were represented. Despite low turnout from private employers, around 2,500 students sent in applications last year for 300 job opportunities, and Moss said she is expecting an even higher turnout this year.

“This is always a great chance to really give somebody that initial experience and get them off on the right track,” said Daryl Hedgspeth, the team manager for the Department of Neighborhood Improvement Services.

Hedgspeth said his department, along with other public participants, is committed to including career development work in their summer job opportunities. With his youth task force spending a week of orientation at Durham Technical Community College before beginning their eight-week program, Hedgbeth said the orientation brings in speakers to expose the students to career opportunities and offer mentorship.

Hedgsbeth’s department hires about 25 students every summer to patrol different sectors of Durham for litter, he said.

“It’s not glamorous work, there’s nothing pretty about it, but it’s good, honest work, and you get to see the appreciation from the community,” he added.

Only 15 percent of applicants receive summer positions, making the program a competitive process for students, Moss said. For some opportunities with no experience required, a good impression may be the only way for students to differentiate themselves from the crowd.

“The official interview may be in a couple weeks, but the real interview starts here,” Moss said.

Brittany Barbee, an 18-year-old student at Gardner-Webb University, said her mother encouraged her to attend the event to find summer employment. For students looking at malls, grocery stores and other areas for summer employment, the Job Fair is a helpful addition, she said.

“I just want to see what is out there,” Barbee added.

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