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Area employers struggle to find summer help

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Posted: Sunday, June 25, 2000 10:00 pm

Brown polyester pants. Paper hats. Minimum wage and minimum respect.

These were once the trappings of summer work, a rite of passage.

But no longer.

Whether it’s the strong economy or emblematic of a changed work ethic, area employers say they are having difficulties this summer filling positions once prized by high school and college students on summer break.

General Mills, one of Lodi’s largest employers, recently hired about 10 new full-time employees — the first such hiring in more than a decade, said Kelly Woodley, GM’s human resources manager.

General Mills also hires part-time workers during the summer, but those positions have become harder to fill with the college-bound youths who once lined up for a shot at the $10.50 an hour jobs, Woodley said.

“They have a lot more options these days. They are much harder to find now.”

Judy Clemons, who runs the Lodi WorkNet office, said her agency faces a different type of quandary. The federal government budgeted San Joaquin County for a program which would have paid employers to hire 2,000 low-income youths for minimum-wage summer jobs, Clemons said. About 200 of those jobs were planned for Lodi.

“Because of a lack of response for the program, that number was scaled back to 80,” she said. “And at this point, we have only placed about 40 applicants.”

There are a number of reasons for the less-than-enthusiastic response, Clemons said. For one thing, low-income youth are often less likely to seek work than middle-class youngsters, she said.

“There are a number of barriers these kids must overcome to enter the job market. Sometimes they (the barriers) prove too much.”

Other factors are Lodi’s relative affluence as a community and the sheer number of jobs which are available which pay considerably more than minimum wage, Clemons said.

Sonja Valenzuela, manager of the Burger King restaurant on Kettleman Lane, said it’s been especially difficult to find enough applicants to staff the business this summer.

“I’m not really sure why,” she said. “But it’s tough to find people willing to do the work. We have to work extra fast to keep up.”

Local leaders caught crawdads,yanked weeds, tidied cemeteries

The News-Sentinel asked some local people about their first summer jobs:

Jack Sieglock, District 4 supervisor, former mayor of Lodi: “I started delivering newspapers when I was 9 years old. It taught me the importance of being on time and knowing how to perform my job well. By the time I was 14, I was pulling weeds out at Casa De Lodi mobile home park for $1.35 an hour. That taught me the value of a dollar and also instilled in me a respect for jobs which blue-collar workers do.”

Bob Andosca, president of the Lodi District Chamber of Commerce: “I became an entrepreneur at age 9 in Deer Park, S.C. My cousins and I went out on a row boat and trapped crawdads. We sold them to a local grocer for 5 cents a pound. I learned a lot about business, believe it or not. Negotiations, price structuring — the works. And at 5 cents a pound, it taught me a valuable lesson about what people have to go through to get money.”

Scott Hudson, San Joaquin County agriculture commissioner: “I got my first summer job when I was 13, working as a busboy at an upscale dinner house in San Simeon. I earned $1.35 an hour and got about $1 a day in tips. I learned how to work hard and fast, and how to be responsible. It also taught me how to function as a part of a team — obviously, all of these are skills I still need today.”

Eric Papacosta, manager, Lodi Wal-Mart store: “Believe it or not, my first job was as a caretaker at a cemetery in Fremont. I was 13, I think. There were no set hours, and no supervisor — so I learned how to work on my own and how to decide which work needed to get done. I made $3 an hour, and got paid every week — in one dollar bills.”

Sandra Butler Smith, Superior Court judge, San Joaquin County: “I de-tassled corn in Iowa starting when I was 13. I earned something like 65 cents an hour, and it was filthy, dirty, uncomfortable work — but I worked with all my friends so I had a great time. I think the most important lesson I learned was that if you keep your head down and keep your feet moving you’ll get to the end of the row. That lesson still comes in handy many days.”

Scott Kenley, Lodi Fire chief: “I was a fry cook at a hamburger stand in Pico Rivera when I was 13. It taught me to be appreciative of those who go above and beyond the call of duty to get the job done.”

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