A summer of opportunity

With the combination of challenges this year, businesses, especially restaurants, are struggling with a lack of staff. — Courtesy MVRHS

As the school year nears its end, many Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) students are preparing to transition from students to employees. An employment crisis resulting from COVID-19, holds on work visas, and increased housing costs hit businesses hard this year, opening up more work opportunities for high school students than in past years.

Junior Oliver Lively recently picked up two jobs doing prep work at Détente and Dock Street. “Businesses are struggling; there was a hold on the forms for foreign employment. The businesses missed out,” he said. “I know you can walk into almost any restaurant on the Island and say, ‘Hey, do you need help?’ and they’ll be asking you to come in that night.”

On March 31, the hold on J-1 visas, which provide short-term work experience for foreign college students and professionals in the U.S. expired. However, with many consulates still closed due to COVID-19, the number of foreign workers able to come to the Island this summer is expected to be far fewer than usual.

Even if businesses are able to find employees, it is still difficult to acquire affordable housing. This year, it is becoming difficult to find housing at all, as a surge in demand has resulted in most rentals being booked.

Some businesses are able to avoid this through previous investment in employee housing, or even by housing employees in their homes. Many, though, are having to turn toward
Vineyard students, who already have housing, as a reliable source of labor.

While opportunities for work abound this year, it can sometimes be difficult for students to find these jobs. In the past, MVRHS hosted a job fair in the spring to connect students with employers in the community, but due to COVID-19 this has not happened in the past two years.

Recently, MVRHS has created a page on the school website that lists job openings and provides contact information.

Some students have taken matters into their own hands. This past summer, while working at Backyard Taco Edgartown, junior Ashley Brasefield saw firsthand how businesses struggled.

“My only coworkers were my bosses and another high school worker,” she said. Ashley, who landed her job after posting on Facebook, created the website mvrhsjobs.com in her leadership class.

“Not everybody has Facebook,” she said. “There aren’t always opportunities for high school students in the resources available right now, like the newspaper.”

In this lucrative job market, however, many students aren’t having to consult these resources, and are finding that businesses are going out of their way to contact high school students.

“In my circle of friends, everyone’s working two or three jobs,” Oliver said. “They’re working a different one every day because everyone needs just a little bit of help.