Help wanted: start of hiring young people at the ABQ

City recreation worker Jada Gonzales, a 17-year-old Albuquerque Academy student, works with children in the city’s Therapeutic Recreation Program at the Holiday Park community center in Uplands. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

Jada Gonzales was working at a sandwich shop when her mother alerted her that the city of Albuquerque was hiring. The Albuquerque Academy junior had heard good reviews from another young employee in town and decided to trade sandwiches for a job in the town’s therapeutic recreation program.

That summer job turned into a year-round gig, and 17-year-old Jada now spends her weekday afternoons working with kids at a local elementary school or community center, including a chore more specialized individual to help a boy with autism.

The job, she said, has reinforced her long-term career goal of working with children in some capacity – perhaps as a pediatrician – and made her more aware of other people’s struggles.

light point“I think it’s been really good and helped me grow in so many ways – mentally and emotionally,” she said.

The city is now looking for a few more Jadas.

It has begun its annual youth hiring campaign and aims to recruit 1,200 people between the ages of 14 and 25 to the city’s payroll this year.

About half of the hires stay on board year-round, while the other half serve the city’s seasonal needs, primarily at swimming pools and community centers.

The city job is a popular first job in Albuquerque, although officials say applications have dipped a bit this year. Cristin Chavez-Smith, who manages the city’s community services division, said she suspects COVID-19 is partly to blame and hopes the state’s declining infection count will inspire more families to explore. employment for young people in the city, in particular via a job fair on Saturday.

“We really hope the job fair kicks into high gear,” she said. “Like the rest of the country and the world, hiring is a bit slow right now.”

Most teens working for the city will earn minimum wage, currently $11.50 an hour, although some positions may pay more.

Jada, who said she uses her paychecks for future college expenses, said she might be able to earn more money elsewhere, but appreciates her current position. Her supervisors have been flexible — she took a few months off during basketball season — and she said interacting with the kids makes the job fun.

“It sometimes brightens your day, and you just see how they open up to you and how they start to trust you,” she said. “And it makes you feel good.”

Jared Frederick, lifeguard at Sandia High School’s Betsy Patterson Pool, watches the swim lanes on Feb. 20, 2022. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

While the city’s youth jobs initiative focuses on people under the age of 25, a large portion of the hires are still high school age. The city has hired an average of 521 children between the ages of 14 and 17 per year over the past decade, according to data provided to the Journal.

Chavez-Smith said city managers often try to help young employees integrate into working life. The hiring process will always include background checks and drug tests, but may involve a group interview instead of a formal one-on-one session. The training, meanwhile, “is huge for us,” she said. For recreation leaders, it could cover areas such as how to spot child abuse, as well as basic concepts such as how to dress for work. As for discipline, Chavez-Smith said she encourages her management team to be patient and take a coaching approach.

“I don’t see much value in someone making a mistake or (perhaps) showing up late and just firing them,” she said. “I don’t know if that’s a great lesson.”

Chavez-Smith said many adult employees in her department, including herself, actually started with the city as teenagers. She started at the age of 16 as a play area animator. Although she once considered becoming a teacher or counselor, she eventually returned to the city after graduating from college. She has risen through the ranks and now oversees community centers, the city’s before and after school programs, dining venues and more.

Jared Frederick, 18, eventually wants to get a cooking degree and open his own bakery — a far cry from his current job as a city lifeguard. But he loved being a lifeguard so much that he’s now entering his fourth year lifeguarding swimmers at Sandia High School’s Betsy Patterson Pool. He said the job taught him more about responsibility and collaboration, not to mention some useful life-saving skills.

But it’s also, quite simply, fun.

“It’s a great job – even as a beginner if you’re just learning how to work,” the Sandia High senior said. “The setting is really friendly. We try to make everyone feel welcome here.

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