As Metro Nashville begins hiring teenagers for seasonal summer jobs there’s a big push to hire more than in recent decades, and for a wider array of positions — a major prong in Mayor Megan Barry’s plan to reduce youth violence.
One government department — Metro Parks — could be the one to account for much of the expansion.
In his recent budget hearing, Parks Director Tommy Lynch again made what has become an annual plea for more seasonal youth hiring.
This time, it was well received.
“I will tell you that when I went through with my yellow [sticky notes] on your budget, I have eight that have ‘youth’ and a star — which is very good for you,” Barry told Lynch.
In recent years, much of the hiring has been for lifeguards like 17-year-old Veronica Summers, who helps teach swimming lessons at Hartman Regional Community Center in Bordeaux.
After just three years on the job, she’s taught a lot of little kids to swim.
“Too many to count,” she said during a recent class in which children as young as 3 were decked out in swim caps and holding bright Styrofoam noodles to stay afloat.
Summers, a Hillsboro High School senior, said she’s also learning at the pool.
“My attitude,” she said, “has changed. Because when I was 15, you know, you don’t do so well with people staying on your case … but now that I’m older, it makes a lot more sense,” she said.
Summers, who swims competitively, also oversees open swimming hours and time allotted for senior citizens.
She’s learned from head instructor Contee “Coach” Harris since she was 7.
“You know a lot of the kids, they want to work, but sometimes they don’t see past the check,” he said, laughing. “So to get somebody like Veronica, and some of the kids I had in the past, it’s been a blessing. And to see them come back year in year out, working for the parks system, it’s beautiful.”
That’s the thinking behind Barry’s push: more lasting jobs for teens, both with the Metro government and private industry.
All told, this year the mayor’s office heard youth hiring budget requests totaling more than $900,000, according to data provided to Nashville Public Radio.
That amount includes requests for paid artist apprenticeships and language interpreters.
One of the largest requests came from the Nashville Career Advancement Center — although that push to open up another 215 city jobs for teens didn’t quite impress Barry.
Barry reminded him that her target is 10,000 youth jobs.
Haynes’ agency usually places 50 rising high school seniors into departments like finance or information technology.
“One of the things we know is that you learn about work by working,” Haynes said. “With the recession, it’s been difficult for a lot of our young folks to find that first job.”
At Metro Parks, it’s been about 100 seasonal jobs — mostly lifeguards. But they’re adding 72 spots now, with a request for even more next year.
“However, that’s only a fraction of what we used to hire,” said Lynch, the parks director (who got his start with Metro as a parks employee at age 16). “We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. This is what we used to do.”
In the future, the work in the parks department could branch out, to mowing grass with maintenance crews or building woodland trails, although Lynch told Barry that he would want to first make sure that the work environment was “wholesome and pleasant.”
“I’m sure,” she replied, “it already is.”
The summer hiring boost could also mean a big crop of first-timers who need to be trained by seasoned staffers. But Veronica Summers said she’s already used to that.
“In the summertime, that’s when all the newbies roll in and, you know, rookie time! So we get to teach them the ins and the outs, the dos and the don’ts.”
Her plan is to keep working poolside while saving for college and pursuing a career in biology.