Local industries feel the pinch of youth seasonal labor shortage

Spring and summer jobs are once again going unfilled so far
Posted at 5:19 AM, Mar 29, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-29 07:02:51-04

BERKLEY, Mich. — As Michigan's COVID-19-related restrictions ease and temperatures rise, local industries are looking to hire seasonal help. Often, that means teenagers.

But we're coming off of unusually low seasonal employment numbers for young people due to the pandemic.

At the peak of spring and summer seasonal employment last year, 54.4% of people ages 16-24 were working in the U.S., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That's up significantly from the 46.7% working in July 2020, but still below the pre-pandemic level of 56.2% in July 2019.

At Durst Lumber and Ace Hardware in Berkley, the task of hiring seasonal help is proving daunting once again. It used to be a popular gig for high school juniors and seniors.

“It has been a little more difficult this year to get help in here," said Lumberyard manager Raad Herfi.

Even with the price of lumber back up, business has been solid. And the warmer days metro Detroit saw in early March and late February really helped, Herfi said.

It's a blessing and a curse; as people flocked to home and garden centers during the height of the pandemic, with not enough staff to handle the surge, Durst had to cut back its evening hours despite having plenty of customers.

Herfi said they're still operating on limited hours, despite wanting to expand hours this summer.

Durst Lumber and Ace Hardware on W. 11 Mile in Berkley.

"We might get a couple applications in every week," he said. And that's after they raised the hourly pay.

Durst is also competing with big box stores. Lowes wants to bring on 800 associates in the Detroit area in the coming months. Home Depot announced plans to hire 100,000 workers nationally, and has more than 80 jobs posted now in the metro area.

“Huge drop in people applying for part-time seasonal work," said Red Oaks water park supervisor, Matt Pardy.

It's a drop he's noticed for years now, before the pandemic started. But COVID he said, made the problem worse.

We asked Pardy why he thinks young people aren't applying in the numbers they used to.

“I wish I did. If I did, we’d try to solve it," he said.

Because of the lifeguard shortage last year, "Our sister water park Waterford Oaks could not open. We were only able to partially open here.”

Red Oak's beloved Lazy River ran dry, something Pardy wants to avoid this season.

For Oakland County's water parks to be fully operational, they need to hire 40 lifeguards at Red Oaks and 75 altogether. But only 25 are returning from last season.

Job postings that used to bring in thousands of applications in just a couple of weeks, now, Pardy said, are attracting a sliver of that.

“We’re at a point where we are opening our applications in January  and keeping them open all the way through middle of summer and we’re maybe seeing a couple hundred applications total," he said.

The county's golf courses are facing similar hiring challenges for spring.

Lazy River attraction at Red Oaks water park in Madison Heights. It didn't open last year due to lack of lifeguards.

Lifeguards in the Oakland County Parks system can now make $15 to $17 an hour, and you get paid during training.

Training starts in late April or early May. If more applications don't flow in..

“It may be a shorter season," Pardy said. Oakland County Parks wants these water parks to be open and we want to be able to serve the public. But we can’t do it without staff to do it safely.” 

He said they'll wait until mid-June if needed to make a call on the Lazy River re-opening. He said he's choosing to remain optimistic.

Click hereto apply for a seasonal job at Oakland County Parks.

Herfi said interested candidates can apply in-person at Durst Lumber and Ace Hardware, located at 2450 W. Eleven Mile Road.