Although employers who retain young people for jobs are enjoying easy hiring in the midst of the recession, a Loyola College management professor warns that they may face a severe shortage of teen-age help during the next three years if they don't shape up.
He predicts that a decline in the teen-age population -- the mainstay of fast-food restaurants, pizza parlors and retail stores -- will make it difficult to fill the county's entry-level jobs, and that employers will begin noticing that decline in the coming school year.
"There's going to be fewer kids for more jobs," said Joseph Procaccini, a Loyola College education and management professor. "I think kids are going to be much more fussy, much more choosy over the typesof jobs they will take."
Procaccini is heading a study by the college's Center for Family Work and Education in Columbia that seeks todetermine how employers can make typical teen jobs more palatable for teen-agers and their parents.
The study began in March and should be completed by October.
Three months into the study, Procaccinihas some preliminary findings.
"A lot of the parents are complaining that the kids are treated like machines, not humans," said Procaccini.
The main objective of the study is to encourage employers tomake the jobs more challenging, he said.
"We want to try to get the kids more involved in decision-making, to get them involved in activities that would require their mental abilities," he said.
Besides interviewing employers, parents and teachers in the Baltimore-Washington corridor, researchers will observe teen-agers at work.
Their findings will be discussed by various employers, parents and teachers brought together by the center in an effort to institute some of the proposed improvements, Procaccini said.
The number of teen-agers available is expected to decline in the next three years, said JohnSnell, chief economic planner for the Baltimore Regional Council of Governments.
Census bureau figures and Maryland Office of Planningresearch shows that the county's population of residents ages 15 to 19 dropped from 9 percent in 1980 to 6 percent in 1990, and is projected to be just under 6 percent in 2000.
Employers who aren't on the cutting edge of teen employment management may be in good shape during this recession, but could be left scraping the barrel for help soon, Procaccini said.
Besides fast-food and retail jobs, he thinks new types of jobs for teens could open up, including internships withprofessional offices.
"That's the kind of stuff that really turnskids on," Procaccini said.
"It would take care of their financialneeds now, but would also have long-term payoff, teaching them values that would help them with their long-term careers later.
"The good jobs are tough to get, there's no doubt about that," he said. "Butkids are going for those jobs that are more attractive."
Russ Irving, manager of the Pizza Hut on Route 108 in Columbia, said he is having an easy time hiring now, but knows that a stronger economy couldmake it harder to hire again.
"For the past two or three years it's been hard to get people to work in this kind of environment," Irving said. Once hired, "They always knew that they could go down the road and get another job, overnight almost," he said.
With that in mind, employers have to be especially accommodating to their young hires, from giving them the schedules they want to spending extra time training.
"You were willing to spend a little more time training them if they were a little slow, because you wanted to hang on to them," Irving said.
"It's definitely drastically changed over the last six months," he said. "It's now much harder for young people to get hired."
Irving said he has hired more part-time adults who need a second job, leaving fewer openings for teen-agers when they began applying in April and May.
He concedes that that is mainly due to the suffering economy.
"If the economy returns to its full strength, probably we will end up back where we started," he said, adding that "there's been a lot of talk on the corporate level about who we're going to hire over the next five years because our typical employee won't exist."
One change Procaccini thinks employers could institute is a focus more on long-term employment rather than filling shifts with "interchangeable parts."
"As an adult you sometimes have to delay gratification, not for an hour but it might be a year down the road," while the sort of immediate-return mentality fostered by typical teen jobs is self-destructive over the long run, Procaccini said.
"They (employers) can possibly try to provide some kind of a career path. It would be nice if some of the kids could work in the same placeall the way through high school," he said.
Doing that would reward the teens by teaching them the value of staying with a company and the employers would be rewarded by company loyalty while saving time spent training new hires.