College-educated dishwashers

When Christe McGowan first started as the director of dining services at Medford Leas nine years ago, she had to build a constant pipeline of high-school-aged dining room servers, coffee shops attendants and sanitation attendant (that's the dishwasher!) to replace seniors going off to college.

She still has to do that, but there is a way that today's tough economy is making her job a little easier.

It's easy enough to quote economists and college professors about the big-picture macro effects of the economy, but I really love it when I meet someone like McGowan who can illustrate one of the myriad of little ways that the recent brutal recession has changed our work world. McGowan was talking to a steady stream of teenagers Tuesday at the summer job fair held at Lenape High School for the Lenape High School Regional District. She was one of 40 employers looking for summer help and she was aiming to recruit about 50 teenagers for anticipated job openings in July and August. (You can read my story about it by clicking here, along with two related blog posts, here and here.)

"When I first started, a lot of the kids went away," she said. "Now a lot more of them are staying local," attending the community colleges and state-run universities.

Some of her dining service teenagers now have five years seniority. That's probably great for Medford Leas in that they don't have to train someone new and they get an experienced and dependable worker, but you can see how it already starts the downward spiral for teenagers, who have an unemployment rate of 25 percent.

Keep in mind that the 25 percent represents teenagers who actually want to work, but can't get jobs. The ones busy with other activities don't count as unemployed.

When the college kids hang on to low-rung jobs at Medford Leas, it means that fewer teenagers can get that valuable first-job work experience. Experts say that paycheck jobs teach young people important lessons about responsibility, proper dress and punctuality that last them the rest of their careers.