The end of the school year is still weeks away, but Mashpee High School seniors Cassie Baker and Julia Lihzis already know how they will be spending their summer.
As they have done the past two summers, Cassie and Julia will be working at The Popponesset Inn in Mashpee.
“Last year, I mostly had responsibilities as a busser but I also stepped in as a hostess when I was needed,” Cassie said. “This year I will be mostly waitressing as well as helping out wherever else I am needed, whether that be as a hostess or a busser.”
As for Julia, she is hoping to make the move from strictly hostessing to picking up additional waitressing shifts.
Another veteran of the Popponesset Inn, Mashpee High senior Adam Henschel, will be moving this summer to the nearby Raw Bar, where he will be working as a bouncer.
Cassie, Julia and Adam are three of the many high school students on the Upper Cape who will provide a key component of the summertime workforce for area businesses.
As the numbers of people on the Upper Cape and the rest of the Cape surge every summer, business surges as well, especially in sectors such as restaurants and hospitality. Demands also increase on municipalities, which need workers for seasonal operations such as beaches.
High school students often provide a key labor force for seasonally oriented businesses, as well as for year-round businesses that see demand jump over off-season levels.
Cape Cod finds itself far above the national average as to the portion of its economy made up by eateries, such as restaurants, and by grocery stores. These sectors are often where students can find summer work.
“They (students) are extremely important,” said Michael Kasparian, president of the Falmouth Chamber of Commerce, about the role the students play in the seasonal economy.
“We have a very difficult time with a lot of challenges trying to find help within the hospitality industry with the price of housing so high,” Mr. Kasparian said. “In the summer, when it gets really busy, high school students really fill that gap.”
High school students often need summer jobs just as badly as businesses need their help. Students can find themselves working anyplace from restaurants to recreation and everything in-between. Their involvement strengthens communities, while giving them the opportunity to earn income for themselves.
Students are typically paid anywhere from $12 (the Massachusetts state hourly minimum wage) to $15 an hour. Some jobs available to students pay more than this, topping out around $20 an hour.
Even lower-wage jobs can offer the additional monetary incentive of tips. Further, working at the same place over multiple seasons or even years (at year-round restaurants) can allow a student to gain pay and a higher job title over time within the business.
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Cassie and Julia, planning to return to the Popponesset Inn, are both saving as much for college as they can, with leftover money going for gas, clothes, going out to eat, and the supplies needed for the coming fall semester.
Summer work also can benefit students in ways beyond income.
“My favorite part is meeting so many new people,” said Julia. “I’ve made a lot of good life long friends here, so it makes working a lot easier.”
In the workplace, students can showcase social skills with complete strangers and flourish.
Cassie credits the restaurant industry for teaching her additional things like communication skills and being able to solve problems on the fly, which she anticipates will benefit her, going forward.
Robin Innis, manager at the Club at the Popponesset, acknowledges the importance of students who return to work another season.
“Having local high school students and graduates return to our operation each year is extremely important,” Ms. Innis said. “We value their energy, knowledge, motivation, and appreciate their willingness to deliver a great experience to guests, both members and the public.
“Without the students, we would be unable to open our doors,” she said. “We have become a year-round operation this year, which means if they are available even for a single shift during the school year we are able to continue to deliver an excellent dining experience.”
The benefits go both ways, she said.
“Many of the students, both local and seasonal employees from off-Cape, have been able to work in different areas and find their niche in the operation,” Ms. Innis said.
“As they turn 18, they are welcome to train to serve or bartend if they are interested,” she said. “With college becoming more and more expensive, many college-bound students are able to earn money to assist with their education.
“Not only is this monetarily beneficial, it is excellent for their character-building, sense of pride, teaches responsibility, respect, and teaches many other valuable lessons,” she said.
But the world of students, summer jobs and employers on the Upper Cape is not always a rosy one.
Mark Lawrence, owner of the Polar Cave Ice Cream Parlour on Route 28 in Mashpee, said he is seeing changes in the teen workforce.
“Many find customer interactions very hard as they lack social skills, due to living on their phones or game consoles,” Mr. Lawrence said.
He further said that some teens and parents do not see having a job as a necessity, which is contributing to a diminishing work ethic among a number of students.
Mr. Lawrence points to another issue that plagued his business last season: understaffing.
“There are not enough students to fill available jobs,” Mark said, “so employers have to offer higher pay and make the work environment as pleasurable an environment as possible. In many cases we are forced to lower our hiring standards just to get a ‘warm body’ to cover shifts.”
Because of the lack of help, the Polar Cave was forced to close during a number of days last summer.
E.J. Cubellis, the owner of the Mezza Luna restaurant in Buzzards Bay, said he has seen similar issues.
“I don’t feel like the young kids today want to work in the restaurant business,” Mr. Cubellis said. “I don’t see the amount of applications that I used to and I haven’t seen a ton of applications over the past two or three years.”
There are numerous restrictions on hours that teens are legally able to work, he said. For a restaurant that does not close until 10 or 11 PM, that puts the Mezza Luna in a tough situation.
Further, the later hours make it difficult for students to balance school work and a job, which he does understand.
At the same time, Mr. Cubellis said that high school students are vital to the Mezza Luna, and that the restaurant business is “a great steppingstone for kids.”
In addition to service industry jobs, students can also find work within town establishments like pools and beaches. In Falmouth, the town is looking for lifeguards for the coming summer; they must have Red Cross Lifeguard certification and CPR certification or be enrolled in an accredited training program to participate in tryouts.
Wages in Falmouth range from $13.89 to $16.88 an hour, and it includes a five-day, 40-hour work week. The season ranges from June to Labor Day weekend.
In Sandwich, they are also hiring lifeguards age 16 or older, with the same certification and seasonal schedule. Payment there ranges from $14 to $16 per hour.
Both towns also turn to students to work as parking attendants at the beaches.
Sandwich is hiring those with a license and means of transportation from May to Labor Day weekend for $12 to $13 per hour.
Falmouth is hiring students to patrol the lot and maintain parking limitations after close and during the day. Falmouth’s wage range is from $12 to $14.59 per hour.
Despite the high demand for seasonal labor, students familiar with the market advise against dawdling when it comes to nailing down a summer job.
Earlier this spring, senior Noah Johnsen of Falmouth High School found a new job at Liam Maguire’s Irish Pub & Restaurant on Main Street in Falmouth. Before this, Noah had worked a multitude of jobs across Falmouth but could not settle into one.
However, he knew the importance of finding a job before the summer began.
“I think kids should be focused on getting summer jobs earlier in the year as opposed to after summer starts,” Noah said, “because it becomes much more selective once you have summer kids pouring in from all over the world. The Cape is a top tourist destination in the country, so leaving your job applications until June or July is a good way to lose your spot to someone who may jump on the opportunity quicker.
“Also, applying earlier gives you better chances of landing the job, as you may be the only one applying at the time,” he said. “If you apply during summer, you could end up at the bottom of a list behind five or 10 other people and risk not getting the job.”