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Unyx International Staffing program was broadcast in local TV in Santa Clara, featured on Mercury News

SF gate 2001

SF Gate

Foreign students making a splash
Employers tapping overseas market to find summer help

- Julie N. Lynem, Chronicle Staff Writer
Sunday, July 8, 2001

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Since they came to the Bay Area from Ireland a few weeks ago, college students Joey O'Sullivan and Tomas Francis have spent hours soaking up the thrills at Paramount's Great America. But the Santa Clara theme park isn't just a source of amusement - it's a source of employment. The best friends are among 200 international students who are not only giving Great America a splash of international flavor, but are boosting its summer workforce. "We had to take the chance," said 19-year-old O'Sullivan, who works with Francis at the Rip Roaring Rapids water ride. "We thought that we might never get this chance again." The amusement park is one of many employers recruiting international students in an effort to promote diversity and fill employee vacancies, specially during the summer months. Great America, which started the summer exchange program about three years ago, works with UNYX International, a Los Angeles-area recruitment agency that hires international college students for jobs in the United States. The students, all at least 18 years old, come from Europe, Asia, and Central and South America. After getting trained and certified to work on the rides, they spend an average of two to three months working at the park before returning home, said Nicole Koebrich, Great America's public relations area manager. They earn the same wages as American-born summer help - about $7 to $20, depending on the job. Housing for the international students is provided at a nearby apartment complex. "There aren't a lot of high school students who want to commit their entire summer to working," Koebrich said, explaining why the park looked overseas for help. More international students, many from Western Europe, are traveling to the United States, said Bill Harwood, president of Sausalito-based Work Experience USA, which helps them land American jobs. As the long economic expansion boosted the demand for workers, many employers relaxed their hiring practices. Partly because of that, international students, who have become more savvy about finding a job in the United States, are no longer frightened by the prospect of looking for a job overseas, Harwood said. "One of the reasons employers choose to hire internationals is because they get very motivated, articulate and intelligent young folks that really want to learn about America," he said. "And the students . . . get to meet people from all over the world and learn the American work ethic." This year, Work Experience USA has brought in more than 5,500 people to work in summer jobs, Harwood said. About 1,000 of those are in West Coast states, he said. Students who want to work and travel in the United States for a few months must obtain a J-1 visa. While some seek temporary positions at architectural firms or computer companies, Harwood said, most work in the service industry, in areas that cater to Americans on vacation, including Yosemite and Yellowstone national parks, beach resorts, casinos and hotels. The hiring of international students for seasonal jobs may be fueled by a shift in the attitudes of American youth, said Stephen Baiter, director of youth programs at the Opportunities Industrialization Center West, a vocational job training center in Menlo Park. Local youths have begun to shun service jobs like those at amusement parks and fast-food restaurants because of the low wages, he said. Instead, many have taken advantage of the higher salaries that computer companies were offering to attract workers and interns, he said. "There are raised expectations, but there's also a lowered sense of obligation," Baiter said. "Some young people feel like they shouldn't have to work as hard to make so little money." "There were some youth who I didn't feel had a lot of skills to offer," he said, "but they were coming back and saying, `I'm making $12 an hour.' That's a pretty good wage for a 17-year-old It's having a networking effect among the peer group. If so-and-so is making $15 an hour, everyone else thinks they should be making $15 an hour, too." There are plenty of teens eager to work, even at the low-wage jobs, said Raylene Switzer, a program mentor at the state Employment Development Department office in Sacramento, but many 14- and 15-year-olds say they're not getting hired. "Because of the insurance, some companies say it's just too expensive to hire someone that young," Switzer said. "And the 16- and 17-year-olds . . . many of them want to work in offices that are air-conditioned, not in fast food." Despite the current economic slump, the unemployment rate for American teens is one of the lowest in decades, according to an analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data by the Employment Policy Foundation, a nonprofit research foundation that focuses on workplace trends. The jobless rate for youths this summer is expected to be 14.7 percent, up from 13.4 percent last summer, but far below the 20-plus percent rate in the early 1990s. More than 10.1 million teenagers held jobs last August - most in sales and food service - and the typical earnings over the 12-week summer were $2,067, according to the foundation's analysis. Even so, American employers are beginning to turn to foreign-born workers to fill a growing share of low-skill jobs. About 1.1 million new lower-skilled immigrants in the labor force have filled the gap since 1994 as the native- born population attracted to such jobs has declined from 9 million to 7.6 million. Although the figures are small in comparison, the foundation also found that the number of foreign-born workers in the entertainment and amusement industry has grown as well. In 1994, there were 16,337 non-citizen workers ages 16 to 24 employed in those occupations nationally, compared with 405,832 native-born workers in the same age group. Last year, the number of non-citizen workers in that age group increased to 29,726, while the number of citizens in those positions slipped to 314,291. Every summer for the past 15 years, dozens of international students from England, Russia, Bulgaria, France, Spain and Italy have made their way to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk for a cultural exchange, said Marq Lipton, vice president of marketing for the Santa Cruz Seaside Company, which operates the Boardwalk. The first group consisted of 30 students. This summer, there are more than 160 working at the Boardwalk, out of a total seasonal workforce of about 800. The international students all stay in studios or apartments within walking distance of the beach and earn roughly $7 to $8 an hour. "To fully staff up, we need a more diverse pool of employees," Lipton said. "We still hire a lot of local kids, and not just kids. We have hired some retired folks. The foreign students just add another element that's important." Jeff Jouett, a spokesman for Six Flags Marine World in Vallejo and Waterworld USA in Concord and Sacramento, said that he appreciates the enthusiasm international students bring to their work. However, the parks decided to scale back the hiring of international students this summer. The wages that the students were paid - through an employment agency the parks hired to recruit the students - were not keeping pace with the rising cost of housing, he said. Last year, Six Flags Marine World had 200 international students working at the park. This year, about 40 have been hired to work in the three parks. In addition, the parks have put the students on their payrolls this year.Another reason for the cutback, Jouett said, is that only 125 of the 200 international students recruited to work at Six Flags Marine World showed up to work for the entire stint. The others participated in the program to get the visa, but didn't sign on to do the work. "It is a potential source of seasonal employees for us," he said. "But it's not without its problems." Still, Jouett said the park may step up its international recruiting efforts next year. "The ones that do come to work are good workers, and they're dedicated," he said. "Their customer service is superior." At Great America, 17-year-old Michelle Beardslee has been impressed with her international counterparts. Beardslee, who will be a senior at San Jose's Lincoln High School in the fall, said the students have inspired her to travel overseas someday. "They're both cute and really responsible," said Beardslee, who works with Tomas Francis and Joey O'Sullivan on the Rip Roaring Rapids ride. "And they have a great sense of humor. I've really enjoyed having them here."

E-mail Julie N. Lynem at

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©2005 San Francisco Chronicle

SF gate 2000

SF Gate       

In a hot job market, some employers are reaching overseas to find workers

- Abby Cohn
Friday, June 16, 2000

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Talk about a long commute: Aurore Tachoires traveled more than 6,000 miles to get to her $7.25-an-hour job at Paramount's Great America.  The college student from Paris is one of 100 international students who are expected to help fill staffing needs at the Santa Clara theme park this summer. ``It was as a dream to come to California,'' said Tachoires, 19, a chemistry and engineering student who wants to improve her English skills and get a taste of American life during the next two months. ``It's easier to find a job here than in France,'' she said during a break from loading children on and off pint-size rides in the park's KidZville area. Great America, which employed just 15 international students last year, plans to get dozens more in coming weeks from such countries as Ireland, Latvia, Russia, Spain and Taiwan. The park was so eager for extra help that it hired an outside agency to recruit the students. Great America pays $9.75 for each hour the students work to the agency, which in turn pays the students $7.25 an hour. A sizzling economy has many other U.S. employers reaching out to distant lands for summer help while local teens enjoy a job market that's given them a broad selection of offerings and more leverage in setting salaries. ``There are a lot of opportunities out there,'' said Elaina Vaughn, vice president of human resources at Great America, which employs 2,600 workers during the peak season. ``The strong economy has really lead us to use more innovative or creative recruitment efforts.'' The Council on International Educational Exchange expects to bring 26,000 foreign students to work in the United States this summer, including about 1,000 in the Bay Area. The organization, based in New York, helps these students acquire visas that will allow them to work and travel in the United States for up to four months. ``It's not a program that's set up to fill employers' job shortages,'' said Pamela Posey, the council's director of operations. ``It's just that American students have a lot of choices right now.'' Foreign students are being recruited for jobs in everything from amusement parks and casinos to restaurants and sports clubs. Elsewhere in the Bay Area, Six Flags Marine World in Vallejo is hiring 340 foreign students this summer, while the company's Waterworld USA park in Concord expects to employ 40. With local unemployment figures hovering around 2.5 percent, young workers are a hot item. In fact, competition is so fierce that a couple of months ago Jack London Cinema 9 in Oakland lost some employees to restaurants where they had gone on their lunch breaks. ``We know everyone else is hurting, too,'' said Cinema 9 General Manager Terry Britt, who figures that four or five workers were snapped up when they stopped for lunch at nearby eating establishments. To try and stem a dizzying turnover rate, the theater complex, which has a staff that will go from 70 to 130 this summer, boosted salaries four months ago. Employees who were paid the minimum wage of $5.75 an hour now can earn up to $7 hourly, Britt said. ``We went from (losing) seven (employees) a week down to four a week,'' he said. While difficult for employers, incidents like this reflect a robust economy. ``The summer job market is a really good example of the effect of strong economic growth,'' said Stephen Levy, director of the Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy. ``This is a very strong job market and it is reaching down.'' Other signs of a rosy employment picture for teens include: -- A plethora of help-wanted signs popping up in store retailers' windows. ``If you walk up and down University Avenue (in Palo Alto), there are signs up all over the place,'' Levy said. ``It's a very tight market.'' Demand for workers by technology companies has probably exacerbated the shortage of people ``scooping ice cream and waiting tables,'' he said. -- More aggressive recruiting by local employers on high school campuses and at unemployment offices and job fairs. ``We've had several employers coming in,'' said Joan Karr, the college and career adviser at Acalanes High School in Lafayette. ``This is the first time I've experienced it.'' In another first, Tonya Gardner, assistant regional manager for Yogurt Park, visited the unemployment office in search of workers for her three frozen yogurt shops in Walnut Creek and Danville. Gardner, who is looking for 10 to 15 more employees, plans to attend a job fair at the local branch of the state Economic Development Department. ``I'm praying I can find some good-quality kids,'' she said. At another job fair last month in Oakland, 44 employers showed up, 12 more than last year, said Daryl Richardson, executive director of the Oakland Mayor's Summer Jobs Program. ``There were some great employers there,'' he said. ``It was a pretty large list and they were looking for the youth.'' Among the firms that attended was the local franchise for Pizza Hut. Laura Hitchens, the company's human resource manager, reports that recruiters have attended 23 job fairs locally so far this year in a stepped-up effort to find employees. Meanwhile, the turnout by young job seekers at the Oakland fair was down. Richardson said 800 applicants showed up last month, compared with 1,000 in previous years. -- Salary increases in an effort to lure young workers and raises in hopes of keeping them. A year ago, In-N-Out Burger boosted base salaries to $9 an hour from $8.25. ``That gives us an advantage,'' said Ken Iriart, vice president for human resources for the chain, which operates six restaurants in the Bay Area. ``We pay well over the minimum wage, so that helps us out.'' But it isn't a bull market for everyone. Representatives of San Francisco agencies that try to place low-income youth in jobs say their task was made tougher this summer by the phase-out of a federally funded job training program. A new program begins in July, and in the meantime, city officials and the job agencies are asking private businesses to donate funds to pay teens for jobs in the public sector and at nonprofit organizations. ``The jobs really aren't the concern,'' said Liz Jackson-Simpson, director of Jobs for Youth. ``It's having the money.'' She also fears that employers may be reluctant to hire younger and less-experienced teens. At Marine World, officials said their decision to recruit overseas is part of a corporate program that promotes cultural exchanges between international students and park guests. All the foreign students are over 18 years old and earn $6.50 to $7 hourly. ``They do fill a need for us as well, so it's kind of a win-win situation for everybody,'' said Lori Brooke, the park's human resources manager. To help reduce housing costs, the international students are placed in dormitories or apartments located by agencies that matched them with their jobs. Students at Marine World pay about $250 a month for housing or no more than 25 percent of their monthly income, according to David Marzano, chief executive officer at Global Staffing Services, the Atlanta firm that employs the   students.   In   the South Bay,   Tachoires  is  sharing  quarters  for $300 a month with other foreign students in an apartment complex lined up by Unyx International, the work-exchange program that contracted with Great America. She describes the apartment as nice, noting the complex has a swimming pool and Jacuzzi. But her apartment is about 15 miles from Great America and Tachoires said it takes her an hour and a half to get to work on public transportation. Tachoires said her university wanted her to work in an English- speaking country this summer to improve her language skills. She isn't expecting to get rich. Instead, she wants to cover her living expenses, the $1,500 in costs to get here and have enough money at the end of her stay to travel around the state. ``If I can have extra money, I'll take it,'' she said, adding, ``It's not my goal.'' Niall Martin, 20, of Ireland, initially had hoped to spend the summer in San Francisco, but housing there was too expensive. He and several friends from Ireland are happy to work at Great America and hope to do some traveling afterward. Martin spent about $1,100 on his flight, medical insurance and work permit, but he figures the money was well spent. ``I'm looking forward to it,'' he said, joking that he wants to see if America is really the way it's described ``on `Jenny Jones' and `Jerry Springer.' ''

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©2005 San Francisco Chronicle

Business Journal 2000

Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal - July 24, 2000

Business News - Local News


From the July 21, 2000 print edition

Low-tech scrambles for help

Workers sought for booming service sector

J.C. Zoghby

Staff Writer


With the valley experiencing a 10-year-low jobless rate of 2.2 percent, employers are going to great lengths to recruit service workers--offering higher wages, bonuses and better fringe benefits. Beyond the stock options and glamour of high tech recruiting, other employers are struggling to find service employees to work at hotels, car washes, and construction sites. Some are going to greath lengths to fill the jobs, recruiting outside Santa Clara County, even overseas. Paramount's Great America theme park has added 125 foreign students to its payroll to help handle the crush of its summer season in a tight job market. Still, about 100 of its 2,600 seasonal jobs remain unfilled, says Elaina Vaughn, vice president of human resources. Great America had 15 foreign students working last summer through a program with Foothill University but expanded its recruiting this summer through Unyx, a Los Angeles-based program that puts U.S. companies in touch with foreign students. The park has found different ways to make due with fewer people, from cross training employees to getting full-time staff to work on holidays. "With the great economy, recruitment efforts are more challenging," says Ms. Vaughn. The park hires teen-agers, seniors and students, promoting free tickets as part of the benefits package. While the foreign hires have helped at Great America, other employers say their biggest concern is still the lack of workers. Often, the shortage has stopped or delayed business operations and expansions. Bill Carlson, co-founder and chief executive of Bella Mia restaurant on First Street, had planned to open a lounge next door in late 1999 but delayed the project because of a lack of construction workers. When he opens it later this month, it will include added bar space and a shoe shine parlor--if he can find someone to shine shoes. While Mr. Carlson says it isn't difficult to hire and retain waiters and bartenders, the problems come with contractors. "You call a plumber," he says, "and they're all booked up." Steve Tedesco, president of the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce, says the shortage of workers in the service industry will limit the valley's economic growth. "A normal worker cannot afford to live here unless they already own their home," Mr. Tedesco says. "We've got a lot of jobs that we've got to figure out how we're going to keep people doing them." One of the problems is that high-paid technology jobs have driven up the cost of living across Santa Clara County, and other industries haven't kept pace. Consumers will pay more for some goods but not all, says Linda Barrington, a labor economist at The Conference Board, a New York economic think tank. That makes it tough for employers. They need to increase wages to recruit workers, but can't pass that increase onto their customers. "Workers are basically going to protest with their feet and leave the area," she says. Maury Kendall, a spokesman for the Emergency Housing Consortium in San Jose, says 40 percent of the homeless in local shelters are employed but they cannot afford to make rent payments on their wages. "No way will salaries in that sector ever catch up with the high cost in the valley," he says. "The guy at 7-Eleven doesn't really stand much chance of getting a windfall" like a high-tech employee might. Phil Dirickson, president of Stevens Creek Buick Pontiac GMC in Santa Clara, says the high cost of living has made technicians and service workers unable to afford housing near the dealership. About 25 percent of his workers live outside the valley. "It's really one of the few clouds on Santa Clara County," he says. "Who's going to bring your Lexus around after they've washed it for you?" At Cardoza Building Maintenance in San Jose, Efrain Cardoza says he has had to turn down work because he can't find enough employees for his commercial janitorial service. He has trouble finding workers and deals with unrealistic client demands, too. "They want the best, cleanest building in town, but they don't want to pay," he says. "But people are demanding higher wages." Cardoza says he has started picking jobs for his 12-person company carefully. "The thing is, where am I going to get the people to do the work?" he says. "I don't want to do the work myself." Harvard University Professor James Medoff says that although employers are raising wages, even higher service-sector salaries may not be enough to handle the skyrocketing housing costs. "The employers might be saying, `The wages are going up like crazy,' but the workers say `No, they're not.'" Leslie Parks, San Jose's director of economic development, says workers are needed at every level of the economy but lower-income workers simply can't afford to work here. Ms. Parks uses federal money from the Work Force Investment Act to help workers develop skills and training to get jobs. Meanwhile, her office manages a recruitment service between the local manufacturing industry and nonprofits, who are in touch with unemployed workers. "There is no middle class," Ms. Parks says."You're either at the top end or  you're barely making it."

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