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TEEN-AGERS WHO normally pound the pavement for summer jobs may not have to pound quite as hard this year. But neither should they sit on their sneakers, because plum jobs have a way of getting picked early, experts say.

"We've got really good news," said George P. Smyntek, state Labor Department economist. "1989 looks like it will be the best summer job-hunting year in recent history. The ratio of people to jobs has never been better."

Part of the reason is that there has been about a 30 percent decline in the number of 15-to-19-year-olds, he said. In 1980, there were 117,000 in that age group in Erie and Niagara counties; this year, there are 80,000.

"In large part it's due to the fact that they just weren't born. Then there was some out-migration. That's part of the reason you see 'help wanted' signs everywhere in malls, plazas and fast food out
, but the good ones are going fast
lets." Nationally, the number of job-hunting 16-to-24-year-olds will be about 706,000 below that of last summer.

Says Heather McIntyre of Temp Careers/APA: "We know the work is out there. There are quite a few openings." She places younger teens in supermarkets, doing mailings or in baby-sitting jobs, usually on a part-time basis, she said. "They just want a couple days here or a couple days there," she said. College students, on the other hand, want full-time work to save for college expenses.

Most teens work in service jobs -- retail sales, restaurants, landscaping, amusement parks, hotels, motels and recreational activities, Smyntek said.

"The down side is that the vast majority of seasonal jobs will occur in the first-ring suburbs -- Kenmore, Amherst, Hamburg," Smyntek said. "There's not as much in the city, so inner-city kids may have more of a problem."

To alleviate that crunch somewhat, the Summer Youth Employment Program, administered by the Buffalo and Erie County Private Industry Council, will offer about 2,000 jobs to disadvantaged Buffalo youths between ages 14 and 21.

The students are paid $3.35 an hour and work 25 hours a week in community centers with senior citizens or young children; in hospitals; parks, and various municipal buildings, said coordinator Jewel Bartkowski.

The jobs have been announced in city high schools and advertised.

"About half the jobs are filled," she said. "When students are finished with high school, then we'll get another rush. We know this is a positive thing for them. People say that youth get in trouble on the streets, but then they don't want to help them."

Some employers can't seem to get enough young hands. The 37 local Burger Kings, for example, still need about 250 workers, said Julie Brown, director of human resources for Resser Management, which manages the local restaurants.

"There definitely are jobs available," she said. "This is our greatest period of sales. At this time of year, we are looking for all shifts -- full time, part time, any time of the day."

Burger King's starting rate is between $3.60 and $4.25, with Williamsville and Amherst restaurants paying the most.

"It's the hardest area to staff," Mrs. Brown said, "because there aren't a lot of people available and there are many more restaurants."

Smyntek says employers are forced to be creative in getting workers -- and then
getting them to return. "The supply keeps getting smaller," he said. "The employer really ought to be thinking of trying to get them back so they have repeaters."

Burger King, for example, gives employees one week paid vacation after a year; pays health insurance (minus a $5 weekly employee contribution); and offers flexible hours so that teens can participate in sports or even work a second job, Mrs. Brown said.

Wegmans Food Markets seems to have found the key to hiring and keeping employees. For five years, Wegmans has offered eligible employees college scholarships, said Mary Ellen Burris, director of consumer affairs. After one year's employment, students who work at least 300 hours a year are eligible for a scholarship that pays up to half their college tuition, with a maximum of $2,200 a year. The scholarship is based on school and work performance.

"This has become a very effective recruitment tool for us," said Ms. Burris, adding that the store's work force is filled for this summer. "We have parents who call to ask how old their child has to be to work for us. It would be much more difficult to maintain our force if it weren't for this."

Ralph Kushner, owner of several Super Duper supermarkets, said they also have made some changes in recent years.

"We are much more flexible than we've ever been," Kushner said, adding that there is still a shortage of part-time staff. "It doesn't seem quite as bad this year as it was last year at this time. Last spring and summer was the worst I remember."

He has also started hiring younger teens. "At one point, I wouldn't hire unless the person was 17, but because it's increasingly difficult to get entry-level employees, we have lowered that to 16 for such jobs as stock clerk, cashier, produce clerk."

The inexperienced start at $3.50 an hour. "But we tend now to give credit for past experience more than we ever have," he said, "and adjust to a higher starting rate."

Though many students scout jobs strictly for money or suntans, some use summer to leverage their futures. If a teen has an inkling about a career interest, summer is a fine time to sample, said Evelyn Nadel, coordinator of the University at Buffalo's Student Employment Program. It gives the student a sense of whether he wants more of the same, and an employer will appreciate the experience.

"The employer won't necessarily view someone who has worked at a fast food place for four summers as lazy," Ms. Nadel said, "but that person may not be perceived as being as ambitious as someone who had more diverse and innovative experiences."

That means a student should try to work in a hospital's dietary department if he wants to be a nutritionist. As a sales clerk if she's interested in retail. A camp counselor for those who want to get into child care positions.

"If they know what they want to do, whether its sales, engineering, pre-med, the student can become aware of what's available in the working world to provide a basis for growth," said Ms. Nadel, who has 2,800 students and 1,750 new jobs registered this year. "My basic belief, though, is that every job has value. Having a job gives a student some kind of practical training, teaches them to deal with people, to be responsible, to be on time."

Stephanie Zuckerman, assistant director of the Career Development Center at Buffalo State College, said many of the jobs to which she sends students are at camps, recreation centers and child care facilities. Camp salaries range from $550 to $1,200 for the summer, she said.

"There's no doubt that if you're thinking of teaching, recreation, counseling or any of the helping professions, this kind of experience is invaluable."

Some students work in internships, preferring college credit or business connections to a paycheck, she said.

The best system is to find a company that pays students while they learn. "In the last couple of years some local companies have run formalized training programs in engineering, business, marketing, computers for college students," Ms. Zuckerman said. "This has been happening nationally, but it's beginning more on a local basis. Companies offer students the opportunity to try out work and then hope they'll be able to hire from among these people."

Kenneth W. Peterson, staff manager of the Minority Internship Program of the Greater Buffalo Chamber of Commerce, runs that type of program at the high school level. This summer it has set up 260 students with jobs as engineering assistants, database coordinators and chemistry clerks, he said. Sixty to 70 percent of these jobs pay between $4 and $5 an hour.

Darien Lake Theme Park and Camping Resort and Fantasy Island get a lot of repeaters because they have two things teens love: being with peers and working outdoors.

Darien Lake will employ 1,200 people under age 22 this summer; Fantasy Island will hire 350 to operate rides and be lifeguards, game operators, grounds attendants, cashiers, maintainence and office workers.

"About 95 percent of our jobs have been filled," said Thomas A. Wages, Fantasy Island park manager. "If there is a weakness, it seems to be in finding those 18 and over. We need them for any place where beer is served and as ride operators." A few other positions, such as night office and laundry, also are open, he said.

"We tend to have more applicants than some other places, because a lot of kids enjoy a park environment," said Wages, who plans weekly social events for the staff. "As we look down the road, there is probably a greater problem in late August when they start going back to college. That's when we feel the pinch."

Eileen Pozda, Darien Lake personnel manager, said employees start at minimum wage but those with appropriate skills are encouraged to take training programs so they can develop into group leaders, a job that pays $250 to $300 weekly. Darien Lake also has a weekly social activity, as well as scholarship and student loan programs.

Asked what qualities she wants in employees, Mrs. Pozda said: "We're looking for people who smile. I don't care what work you do here, from cashiering to maintenance, you'll have contact with our guests and you really have to like people."

Most teens would rather do anything than clean, but some are working in the growing field of house cleaning. Angie Kleeh of Penny Brite Household Services said that for the first time the company has gotten a substantial influx of high school applicants. There are a couple of lures for the house-cleaning jobs, she said. One is an hourly rate of $5.10 (though workers aren't paid for travel time between jobs) and the other is that they don't have to work weekends or nights. Mrs. Kleeh said they also prefer that workers have access to a car one day per week.

Hank Vandewoestyne of Menne Nursery said they hire a lot of 16-to-18-year-olds, but that's done mainly in April and May when the nursery business is at its peak. After that, he said, they hire mostly students over 18 for landscaping work.

"Everybody is looking for help," he said. "In general, there are a lot of job openings. There aren't as many students and there are more jobs. That translates into shortages. Today we have enough, but who knows what tomorrow brings."

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