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Feb 28th
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Boardwalk Bound

boardwalk_tixboothThe Seaside Company gears up for their summer season, hiring more locals than usual
For more than two decades, the Santa Cruz Seaside Company, which owns the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, has been rounding out its summer staff of high school students and seniors by hiring foreign students with the right skills—English fluency and, for some, basic math. But this summer, says the Seaside Company, the foreign Work & Travel program will be running at a minimum in anticipation of increased local interest in jobs at the Boardwalk.

“Because of the economy, we can hire a lot more locals,” says Carol Siegel, the employment manager at the Seaside Company. “To have local people working is a really positive thing for our community.”

In Santa Cruz County, unemployment levels reached 13.8 percent in December, according to the most recent report released by the Employment Development Department. Santa Cruz County has higher unemployment than California’s statewide average, which clocks in at 12.3 percent. The national unemployment level is even lower, at 9.1 percent.

In 2011, local unemployment levels will most likely stay flat, reports David Lundberg, director of the Workforce Investment Board (WIB) of Santa Cruz County.

“People need survival jobs right now,” says Lundberg. “Whether you’re in construction or something else right now, you may need to think about a survival job that is not the end goal but may be the beginning of your career. Regardless of what your educational level is or your skills, you need to have essential employability skills, you know how to show up to work on time, be professional, be a team player and a go getter.”

The Seaside Company is one of the largest employers in Santa Cruz County. In summer 2010, the company’s workforce peaked at 1,372. The Seaside Company hired 561 local employees for the summer 2010 season, about one-eighth of the 4,307 applications it received.

As with any job, working at the Boardwalk requires some basic savvy.

To score a summer job at the Boardwalk, applicants must possess the ability to give excellent customer service, be responsible and show up for work. For those interested in jobs that involve handling cash, a basic math skills test is required.

“We take our roll as a primary employer of youth in Santa Cruz County very seriously,” says Kris Reyes, director of community relations at the Seaside Company. “We work very hard to ensure that when our employees leave us they have developed essential skills that will help them in the workplace.”

For summer 2011, the outlook is good for qualified local applicants. The Seaside Company is planning to hire more locals than last year, though it still plans to run the Work & Travel program.

The foreign student Work & Travel program is important for the Seaside Company, says Siegel, because it allows the Boardwalk to maintain a large enough staff in the “shoulder season,” or the weekdays in the months of May, August and September, when local students—who make up a large percentage of the Boardwalk’s workforce—are in school.

All of the foreign students who come to work at the Boardwalk are over the age of 18, another reason they are an important asset to the Seaside Company, which has a summer staff of mostly local high school students.

About 80 employees this summer will be foreign students. The students will earn $8.25 an hour with a minimum 32-hour workweek. “We couldn’t run the Boardwalk without them,” says Siegel.

The foreign students are invited to live in La Bahia, where rent is an easy $65 per week. La Bahia is a beachfront apartment complex built in 1926 and currently owned by the Seaside Company. During the offseason, La Bahia houses a mixture of UC Santa Cruz students and local renters, who pay $775 a month for a studio apartment and upward of $1,400 per month for a two bedroom. In the summer, the La Bahia apartments are emptied to make room for the Work & Travel employees.

Each year, for more than 20 years, the Seaside Co. has partnered with international hiring programs to supplement its workforce. Students from around the world are screened and hired by one of three companies, InterExchange, Council Exchange, and Intrax, before they are granted a J-1 visa which permits them to work in the United States for the summer through a program that promotes cultural exchange.

The Work & Travel program offers a unique opportunity for cultural exchange in Santa Cruz. Most of the foreign students come from Asia and Eastern Europe, Siegel reports, although it varies from year to year. In past years, students have come from Taiwan, Singapore, China, Bulgaria, Poland and Jamaica.

“Every year, we survey our employees on what they like and do not like about working at the Boardwalk, and working with international students from across the world is always among the most enjoyable aspects of working at the Boardwalk,” says Reyes. “Our employees enjoy meeting students from other cultures and backgrounds.”

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