The official start of summer is more than two months away and students still have several weeks of school left before vacation starts, but area businesses that depend on the influx of summer workers are already gearing up for the season.
In Sioux Falls, the lack of lifeguards meant two city pools never opened for the season, and another opened a few weeks later than normal.
That’s not a problem Sioux Falls is expected to have this year as rising wages and an improving job market are attracting workers.
Park operations manager Kelby Mieras said a “substantial” increase in the hourly wage helped bring in more applicants for the summer.
“As people are still looking for summer employment, we still have opportunities available,” Mieras said. “But things are actually looking really good for us.”
Other area seasonal businesses are saying the same thing: the summer outlook is looking much better than it was a year ago as teens look for jobs that offer more benefits than just pay and increased schedule flexibility.
Wild Water West keeping up with the market
Another large seasonal employer stepping up their hiring game is Wild Water West. Brian Rehnke, director of operations, said the water park has had to increase wages and incorporate incentives to retain staff for the summer and entice new applicants.
“You can actually get school credit for being a lifeguard,” Rehnke said.
Wild Water West competes with the City of Sioux Falls in hiring seasonal lifeguards, so as one employer raises wages, the other typically follows suit.
One thing the water park is offering outside of typical wages is added “fun” to the job. Workers at the water park get a season pass for free, receive 50% off concessions, get free drinks while working or visiting and discounts for family, Rehnke said.
“Those are things that I can offer, that I don’t think the city can either,” Rehnke said, “So we try to have a few extra things that make it enticing.”
A monthly employee appreciation night is also in the works but details haven’t been finalized, Rehnke said.
Sioux Falls Parks and Recreation witnessed first-hand the affects of a labor shortage during the summer of 2021 when three of the city’s public pools couldn’t open, Mieras said.
Positions under park operations used to be paid between $11.50-$14 per hour, Mieras said. This year the starting wage is $17 per hour.
“That’s a dramatic increase from where we’ve been historically,” Mieras said, “and I think that’s definitely paying dividends and in what we’re seeing with our success hiring to this point.”
The Parks and Recreation department is “definitely further ahead” in terms of hiring workers this year compared to 2021, Mieras said.
B&G owner optimistic about summer
B&G Milkyway, a seasonal destination for frozen treats and summer food in Sioux Falls, opened their W. 12th Street location in early April, which was the last location to start serving customers this year.
Owner Bruce Bettmeng said he was working by himself temporarily at the recently opened location.
The issue of staff-shortages isn’t new to Bettmeng, who said his business has struggled with that issue for the last few years.
“Yeah, we continue to struggle finding good applicants,” Bettmeng said.
The majority of B&G Milkyway locations are staffed by teenagers and seasonal workers, many of whom are working their first job.
“Your first job we’re looking at paying minimum,” Bettmeng said, “but a lot of times we get tips so they do operate under more than a minimum wage.”
Bettmeng said he doesn’t have a solid outlook yet on what staffing will look like for his business this year but remains optimistic. He’s planning a retention program to reward good employees and returning workers but plans had not been finalized as of early April.
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Flexibility tops wages for some teenager works
Brooklyn Harpe, 17, is a junior at Washington High School who started a part-time job in the beginning of April.
When deciding on her job, two things mattered to her the most: working with friends and having a flexible work schedule.
Many of her friends work part-time jobs. She said it’s not uncommon for 14-year-olds to have jobs, too.
She’s currently employed at Precious Angels Daycare in Sioux Falls. Before accepting that job, she was also considering working at a Starbucks with her friends.
Both places paid “about the same” but the daycare’s hours won Harpe over.
“It’s really nice because daycares close at six. So I’m not working like late into the night, and I can get days off that I need off,” Harpe said.
One of Harpe’s classmates at Washington, Noah Sorgdrager, 17, got a job after his parents asked him to. He just hit his one-year work anniversary at Menard’s in eastern Sioux Falls.
“‘You need a job,’ and it’s like, ‘Well, I don’t really want one,'” Sorgdrager said, “but you have to have one to pay for your own gas.”
Sorgdrager has seen other places offering more money, but he said he’ll stay at Menard’s because he feels the company has been good to him and he genuinely likes his job.
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Since his time there, his duties have varied. When he started he wasn’t allowed to work as a cashier, but now he is.
“For cashiering, you had to be 18 because of the money that we deal with,” Sorgdrager said, “but then they learned to trust 16-year-olds with money and so they lowered it.”
Both 17-year-old’s agree that feeling comfortable at a job is more important to them than what they make, but they do understand some of their friends leaving a job for another higher paying one.
Sorgdrager said the key is feeling like his employer is listening to him and takes his needs in mind.
“The scheduling is really good. That’s I think my favorite part about that is because we have very good schedulers and they listen,” Sorgdrager said.
This article originally appeared on Sioux Falls Argus Leader: Sioux Falls teens getting paid more to offcut worker shortage