If you're kicking yourself for missing the big summer job fair at the University Area Community Center, stop.
There was no job fair this year.
"The companies just aren't hiring this year," said executive director Julian Garcia. "We couldn't get employers interested."
It's a similar story at the state-funded Tampa Bay Workforce Alliance. "This year we had to have a career expo instead," said spokeswoman Erin Glover. "The employers just are not there in bulk."
The Greater Brandon Chamber of Commerce did hold a job fair in April, said president Tammy Bracewell. But, she said, "Usually we have a large group (of employers) and this year we did have a smaller group."
As area unemployment edges into double digits and adults hold onto whatever work they can get, young people can expect to face fierce competition for jobs that once were plentiful.
"I've noticed it in my own supermarket where I shop," Garcia said. "Adults are taking some of those jobs."
Many doors are closed
Countywide, unemployment was last measured at 9.5 percent in April. That's more than double last April's rate of 4.7 percent.
Last year's youth unemployment rate was close to 14 percent, and Glover predicted it will be higher this year.
The situation in Hillsborough County is not entirely hopeless: Some businesses continue to prosper, and the state will accept hundreds in a paid training program that's funded with federal stimulus money.
Elsewhere, Garcia said, "It's going to be really, really hard this summer."
Busch Gardens, for example, in past years has hired as many as 1,000 people for summer work.
"This year, there is just no comparison," says Gary J. Vien, vice president for human resources. "No one is leaving."
Beyond a handful of existing openings, applicants will have their best shot in July, when the park hires for fall's Howl-O-Scream.
The city of Tampa's Parks and Recreation department had about 800 applications for close to 300 summer jobs in its camps, pools and recreation centers, said director Karen Palus.
Close to half the jobs already are filled.
Apply for training
Opportunities do exist for 700 people, ages 17 to 24, who will get training and stipends through the Employment and Leadership Exploration program run by the Workforce Alliance. Applications are being taken today at the agency's North Tampa office.
Funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the positions will provide experience in environmental jobs, online publication and other fields.
The pay — up to $3,000 for workers ages 20 to 24 for summer work, and up to $688 for those 17 to 19 over four weeks' time — is stimulus money in the purest sense of the word, Glover said, as the workers will no doubt spend their earnings in the local economy.
And, she added, "We don't want to have to tell someone they have to compete with their parents to get a summer job."
Applicants also have better chances at expanding companies.
A Panera Bread spokeswoman said the company is accepting applications at all of its restaurants.
Publix Super Markets, similarly, continues to open new stores, creating jobs at surrounding stores as employees with seniority flock to the new ones. New locations include a refurbished Albertson's store in Town 'N Country and a planned new store on U.S. 41 in Ruskin.
Experts are also encouraging young applicants to take unpaid internships and volunteer positions if they can afford to. "Even if they are not making money, they can get experience that will help them when things get better," Garcia said.
Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 269-5307 or [email protected]