VICENZA, Italy — If the workers around the local Army base seem to be a little younger lately, it’s because they are — at least for the next five weeks or so.
More than 2,500 youths and young adults — from 14 to 23 years old — are taking on a variety of tasks as part of the annual Summer Hire program.
The young employees had a few weeks off between the end of school and the June 28 start date. They’ll earn about $1,200 each before getting a few more weeks off before school begins again.
“I had nothing better to do during the summer,” said 14-year-old Jordan Michael Williams, who will be an eighth-grader at Vicenza in the fall. He’s one of seven employed with the 22nd Area Support Group’s Department of Public Works.
Armed with a weed trimmer, Jordan spent Thursday afternoon trying to eliminate errant green shoots from fences around the child development center. He said he likes getting outside and doing something.
“The pay’s not bad, either,” he said.
Those are probably the two biggest factors for the young adults to sign up for the six-week program. The overwhelming majority of American teenagers living in military communities around Europe don’t have a driver’s license or own cars. So it’s not as easy to go hang out at the mall. There’s also a scarcity of ways to make money for much of the year. Language and legal barriers make getting a job on the economy difficult. And besides bagging for tips at the local commissary or landing a gig with the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, there’s not much on base, either.
“It’s very limited,” said Julie Chance, a human resource assistant with the Civilian Human Resource Agency in Vicenza. Throwing in competition from military spouses makes it especially hard.
“We have a lot of spouses here that are 18 or 19 years old. And they’re not limited by the hours they can work because of school.”
That’s why military communities launched Summer Hire. Dan Vasquez, a human resource assistant with the Civilian Personnel Operations Center, is coordinating the Army’s program across Europe this year.
He said about 2,550 young adults are employed at Army bases this summer. More than 600 are working in the Heidelberg area, with Hanau not far behind in the numbers count. There are 78 in Vicenza and 16 in Livorno, which have much smaller populations.
“It’s a huge workload [for organizers], but it’s definitely worth it,” Vasquez said.
Bases benefit because the young adults supplement operations that are often operating at minimal manpower levels. As for the workers, “it’s a good opportunity for them to earn some money and gain valuable skills or job experience,” Vasquez said.
Participants work in three general areas: youth services, labor and clerical. Chance, who runs the program in Vicenza along with Maddy Bailey, said clerical jobs are the most sought after. Those can involve filing, shredding, answering phone calls and computer work. The young workers tend to pick up the computer programs quickly. They are paid $5.14 per hour, one cent less than the federal minimum wage.
“Most of the supervisors I’ve talked to are very glad,” Bailey said of the early results of this year’s program.
All of the participants are supervised. That way they can learn skills from mentors and make sure they’re not trying to do tasks for which they’re not qualified. For those assigned to the DPW crew, that means they can’t drive the heavy equipment on base.
Because most of the public works crew at Vicenza is Italian, it also means learning some words in a new language.
Or maybe not.
“No, I’m teaching them English,” Jordan said, with a grin toward his Italian supervisor. “It’s been four days and I think I’ve taught him a new word every day.”