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When you visit the Cape this year, you might notice something different about the people scooping your ice cream, ringing up your flip flops or checking you in at the front desk of your hotel. Unlike two years ago when more than 6,000 foreign workers flooded the Cape to fill jobs, this year’s summer workforce is local.
Twenty-year-old Carolina Aquino of Hyannis works the front desk of the Cape Codder Resort and Spa. She worked at the hotel two years ago before she went to college and returned because it was an easy job to find.
"There is a lot of competition," Aquino said. "It’s a little bit harder. People are going back to places they have worked before and if you are coming in new, the places want to hire people that they have already hired before. That’s one of the reasons I came back here."
Aquino’s boss, Bill Catania, president of the company that owns the Cape Codder and the Hearth and Kettle Restaurants, says he has a lot of former employees who live in the area looking to return. He’s also had applications from people with professional backgrounds looking for work at his hotel. As one of the largest seasonal employer on the Cape, he says the pool of candidates this year is strong.
"We’ve found a better quality of work staff because more people appreciate their jobs more," Catania explained. "I guess they need it a little bit more. I guess if they don’t do well they might not to find another one as easy."
And Catania is not alone, says David Augustinho, the executive director of the Cape and Islands Workforce Investment Board.
"It’s a pretty robust picture for employers because of the general economy," Augustinho said. "We’re not unlike the general economy in that individuals are taking positions that they might not have even looked at or considered a number of years ago."
The Cape’s unemployment rate is around 10 percent, two percentage points higher than the rest of the state. And the layoffs in other sectors mean overqualified people are applying for seasonal work. People such as 42-year-old Sheila Reed of West Yarmouth. She is a tax preparer during tax season. Recently she was at the Career Opportunities Center in Hyannis looking for a clerical job.
"It’s hard to find a full time job, I should just tell you that out here," Reed said. "It’s all part time and I can’t really live off that right now."
Reed says she is now looking for summer jobs at restaurants and motels --work she’s never done before.
"It’s tough when you don’t have experience in the area where you’re probably going to have to go work in," she said. "I have experience in clerical not with physical labor work, which most of the work is out here, (and) housekeeping. Not that I can’t do housekeeping. I have four kids so I know a thing or two about it, but they are not going to hire me on that basis."
And if you have very little experience because you are young, like 18-year-old Alyssa Zuniga, it’s even harder to find a job. She’s been looking for two months and she’s found some unlikely competition.
"Me and my grandmother applied for the same job at Dunkin Donuts. She got the job I didn’t," Zuniga laughed.
In Massachusetts, teen-employment rates have fallen through the floor and Zuniga feels it, especially on the Cape, where the elderly population is more than three times larger than in the rest of the state.
"It’s really hard. Nobody is willing to give kids a chance to get a job," she said. "Everywhere you go it just seems like there’s no teenagers working."
Zuniga’s mentor at Cape Cod Community College is Coren Peacock, who runs the Schools to Careers partnership. She recently polled 38 students about work.
"Only 10 of them have summer jobs. So far only a third or less to have job lined up at this point is unusual," said Peacock.
The situation stands in stark contract to just a year ago. Then fewer foreign workers were given visas, so employers held job fairs and recruited from as far away as Fall River to find qualified workers for the summer season.
This program aired on May 22, 2009.
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