Lifeguard Jessica Koval keeps an eye on swimmers at Founders Park

By Kellie Butler Farrel

High school and college students have a lot of choices this summer when it comes to rewarding, challenging and lucrative employment in the Upper Keys. The labor shortage/housing crisis is making for a hotter than ever summer job market.

“Up and down the Keys I think all of us in the resort industry have been struggling to make sure that our staffing levels are optimal for providing guest services,” said Shannon Harbolt, director of human resources at Islander Resort. “So I think there’s going to be a lot of opportunity for college and high school students this summer.” The Islander is looking for people to work at the pool and beach concessions, as well as in resort restaurants. Six positions are currently open and listed on the Islander’s website.

From hospitality to retail to restaurants and recreation, the summer jobs are there for the taking.

“We are definitely looking. We have some great summer jobs here,” said Anne Onsgard, program manager at Founders Park. Onsgard is looking for staff to help run the popular summer camp program that runs from June 6 to July 29. Candidates need to be at least 15 years old and can earn $12 to $14 an hour. Minimum wage in Florida is $10 an hour.

“We are looking for two lead counselors, 40 hours a week, and two regular part-time counselors that work 25-28 hours per week,” added Onsgard. 

Founders Park is also looking for lifeguards. Lifeguards need to be certified. A certification class is currently taking place at the park and another class may be offered later this summer. Lifeguards learn valuable skills, such as first aid, water rescue techniques and CPR. And then there are the other perks of the job.

“You get a good tan, you get to meet lots of people, you make good people skills, you can’t be shy to let people know that rules do exist and they’ve got to be safe,” said 20-year-old lifeguard Gabe Pena. Pena is a student at the College of the Florida Keys and has worked at Founders for nine months. Lifeguards also have to be at least 15 years old. It’s a lot of responsibility, but there is a payoff. Starting pay is $14.99 an hour. 

Publix is hiring teens for both of its Upper Keys stores. Publix hires students as young as 14, and it can lead to more than just a summer job. 

“Since school is getting out soon, all Keys stores are looking to hire minors with the understanding that their hours would be adjusted once school starts up again in the fall,” said Lindsay Willis, media relations manager for Publix.

Islamorada boutique Zero Dress Code is looking to bring on two part-time employees.

“It’s expensive to live here so people are coming from the mainland, it’s getting to where now they’re not coming from the mainland. So we’re just looking for people that live here to work here,” said manager Sandra Murphy. Murphy said Zero Dress Code is offering competitive pay and a very generous employee discount on store merchandise. “We pay pretty well, we give a great discount. This is a beautiful store to work in,” added Murphy.

Employers in the Keys say they have realized that in order to attract qualified candidates, they need to increase pay and offer other benefits, like flexible work schedules.

“We are in the Keys and we know what the cost of living is here, so we’re realistic,” said Lizzette Romero, human resources manager at Forest Tek and Overseas Lumber. Romero has taken to social media and to radio to advertise job openings. They are looking to hire four employees, three to work at their flagship store in Tavernier and one to work in their new store, Keys Mercantile Home, a new home goods and hardware store in Islamorada. Entry-level jobs start at $15 an hour. Other higher-paying jobs are available for qualified candidates. Candidates must be at least 18 years old to apply.

Across all industries, capable and reliable employees are in high demand. For young people in the Upper Keys this summer, that spells opportunity.

If you would like to have the Weekly delivered to your mailbox or inbox along with our daily news blast, please subscribe here.