When Tiffany Halvorsen was 15, she applied for her very first job at Chick-fil-A. She recalls, “I was super nervous, and I don’t know why. When you first get a job anywhere, you just want someone to call you back.” Now 19 and studying forestry at NAU, she is grateful for the interviewing and time management experience she gained from her first job. And that experience has paid off: since Chick-fil-A, she has landed several other positions, including her current job as a front end team member at New Frontiers, one of Flagstaff’s most popular natural food stores with a coveted work environment.
For current high school students in Flagstaff, it may seem hard to imagine themselves in Tiffany’s position, working at a job she loves. And that makes sense; Tiffany recalls searching for an entire semester before landing work at New Frontiers. According to Carol Curtis, director of the Coconino County Career Center, businesses are generally hesitant to hire in this economy. She observed, “Many employers are just getting comfortable with feeling like they can hire again,” especially individuals with limited work experience. The college population from Northern Arizona University puts even more of a strain on local teens’ employment opportunities because child labor laws don’t affect the college students and they tend to have better means of transportation. But, as Curtis noted, “It’s amazing how bright kids are,” and Flagstaff teenagers are still out there looking for work.
The good news: Flagstaff has great resources for job-hunting teens. The Career Center has several programs and workshops, including summer youth programs, and thanks to a network of collaborating organizations, teens can meet businesses face-to-face before they even land that first interview. For the past nine years, Coconino Community College has hosted a teen job fair, attended by regional businesses and organizations primarily looking for summer employees.
Sonia Gonzalez, CCC’s Career Services Coordinator who helps run the job fair, said, “We really try to target the teen population in Flagstaff,” and many students are looking for work in the food industry or something related to potential long-term careers. According to Gonzalez, “Some of them…it’s just their interests. They just want to get out and do something for the summer, maybe start building up their résumé. Because they are so young, they don’t have a whole lot of work experience.” The job fair provides an invaluable opportunity to both try to find work and develop networking skills. According to Gonzalez, 26 vendors registered for this year’s fair, including Second Chance Center for Animals and Flagstaff Family YMCA, and around 400 students turned out for the event.
One of the most unique job opportunities available this summer is the newly developed Flagstaff Teen Employment Corps. A collaborative project of the Civic Service Institute at NAU and led by CSI’s assistant director, Deidre Crawley, FTEC is a group of 10 teens who will spend 25 hours this summer running job preparation workshops for fellow teenagers at the Flagstaff YMCA’s Teen Center. Crawley said, “These teens are providing a service for other teens and learning at the same time,” gaining experience that will hopefully translate into future employment. Plus, added FTEC Teen Coordinator Keely Hartman, “It looks super awesome on résumés,” which is key for those just entering the work force.
Tiffany Halvorsen has learned that lesson, reflecting, “Once you build a résumé, you can make choices.” Teens looking to attend events or get involved with FTEC should visit its Facebook page for more information.
Whether first jobs are a summer internship to boost a college application, work at a garden center, or a movie theater box office gig, they are a rite of passage and provide an invaluable opportunity to build the skills and confidence needed to succeed in the work force. As Carol Curtis describes it, “Those first time jobs can make or break how you choose a career.” In Flagstaff, where competition includes college students and other residents, finding work can be daunting for a teenager. Yet, despite obstacles, teens are looking for work in a variety of industries. And lucky for them, Flagstaff has a wealth of resources to help land that perfect first job. FBN