It used to be that summer was a time when college students scrambled for jobs. But the recent tight labor market has sparked tough competition for employers looking for willing summer workers. Today a growing number of seasonal jobs in the nation's resorts and tourist attractions are being filled by students from outside the U.S. From member station 90.3 WCPN in Cleveland Karen Schaefer reports.
KS- A decade ago, many U.S. college students would have given their right arm for a job like this one, working as a ride operator in one of the nation's amusement parks. But in the current strong economy, Americans students are no longer lining up to work and some employers have had to find new ways to fill their seasonal jobs. This summer at Cedar Point Amusement Park in Ohio, visitors may be startled to discover that the smiling young operator of the world's fastest roller coaster hails from Bulgaria.
JANICE WITHROW- Of our four thousand employees, we have about 800 international students, so it is quite a large percentage.
KS- In fact, Cedar Point is one of the top ten U.S. employers of foreign students with temporary work visas. Janice Witherow has worked as a public relations representative for the park for the last ten years.
JW- In the last five years - just because the economy has been so strong - the competition for seasonal jobs has become fiercer and fiercer and we've had to be a little more creative in our recruiting and that has included recruiting international employees. But really the last two years, we've made a very proactive push in actually going abroad to these countries and participating in an exchange program to bring students over to Cedar Point.
JOANNA- My name is Joanna. Next, surname, is Zwobinska, and I am from Poland, so this is Polish surname. And I'm student, I'm student of Sociology in Poland at Poznan University. I'm here on the fourth day of my work and my English is getting better, getting better, but no, not yet very well!
KS- Joanna, who is 23, works in the hotel parking lot sweeping up litter for $6.25 an hour. If she completes her employment contract, she could earn as much as a thousand dollars in additional bonus pay for four months of work. Even after she's paid back her parents for the thousand-dollar cost of the exchange program, she'll be taking home more money than she could have earned in Poland. But Joanna says money isn't what brought her to the States.
JOANNA- I'd like to learn English here and meet a lot of people and get to know American culture, American people and, of course, it's only one way to get here, working and next traveling. And I like in America everything without food. I'm sorry, I'm sorry, but--[laughs].
KS- Apart from complaints about American food, most of the park's international employees report few problems adjusting to life in the U.S. Many of the students are making their first visit to America from countries such as Slovakia, Great Britain, Belarus and Belgium. Jorge Ojolla is a 20-year old studying computers and finance in his native Columbia. Columbians make up the largest contingent of foreign students at Cedar Point.
JO- I come here to work and make the money. I want to work very hard, because I like work. I want to spend part of the money that I earn here in travel. I don't know, I think travel, meet many pretty girls. [laughs]
KS- Jorge was just promoted to shift superintendent at a park burger stand. Janice Witherow says many of the international students have a stronger work ethic than Americans.
JW- It's also a good influence on the American students as well who sometimes take things for granted and jobs are so plentiful in America and in these other countries they're not.
KS- But the biggest appeal of the parks' foreign workers is experienced by visitors who can read where employees come from on their name tags. Kaylin Fotev is a 21-year old Bulgarian student at American University in Paris. He helps run the park's newest and busiest attraction -- the roller coaster, Millennium Force. Kaylin says it's a small world after all.
KF- Most Americans, they never heard of Europe and small countries in Europe and when I came here, and the driver that drove me here to Cedar Point? He talked to me and we figured out that his father during the war was stationed in Bulgaria. So actually, the first man that I spoke to, he'd been to Bulgaria.
KS- While the international exchange program at Cedar Point is only a year old, other employers with seasonal staffing needs are taking a new look at recruiting foreign workers. Last year, the U.S. State Department issued nearly a quarter million temporary student work visas. And officials at Cedar Point Amusement Park say that - as long as the American economy remains strong - they'll continue to hire international employees. At Cedar Point, Karen Schaefer, 90.3 WCPN, 90.3 FM.