Student employment faces change during COVID-19


Photo by Pikrepo

When the Illinois State Board of Education moved schools from e-learning days to remote learning days on March 27, students adjusted to new schedules and dealt with the cancellation of extracurriculars as part of their ever-changing routine during COVID-19. Despite this, junior Joshua Diaz still leaves his house regularly.

His everyday destination is his job, the regularity of his drive to school replaced by his route to the Warrenville Target, where he works as a checkout advocate, mainly serving customers in checkout lines and assisting with grocery pick ups. While a record number of Americans lost jobs or had hours limited by the pandemic, Diaz feels lucky to still be able to work. 

“It’s strange to be honest… but it’s a nice time to save money for the future, and it feels nice that I can help people out in this tough situation,” said Diaz in a phone interview.

After Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker ordered all nonessential businesses to cease or move to Minimum Basic Operations, many gyms, salons and retail shops closed their doors to customers. With the governor’s extension of the stay-at-home order until May 30, essential businesses, like the grocery store Diaz works at, have changed policies in order to follow Centers for Disease Control guidelines for keeping their customers and employees safe.

“We are all offered gloves and masks, and we clean the aisle after every single customer to increase cleanliness.” says Diaz.

While some employers continue to operate and pay their employees, many small businesses that were deemed nonessential have been forced to reevaluate their number of  employees and their salaries, especially if the job cannot be done from home. Businesses that are able to continue operations have had to adjust hours and service for their customers by offering goods online, through delivery or carry-out meals. 

Because of these financial struggles, students who work year round have been forced to reconsider their current jobs. Senior Sydney Rodriguez was furloughed last month after working at Home Goods for the past six months.

“They stated that they are furloughing all store and warehouse associates temporarily, with no certainty of when we could come back,” Rodriguez said over the phone. “I’m looking for a new job, because I want to work again, but probably not at Home Goods.”

Record high unemployment rates across America have made job searches more difficult, especially for younger students who are now competing for a smaller number of jobs against more experienced workers. Many are still attempting to apply for summer jobs, with no certainty of if they will be able to work. Nonessential business employers face an unknown future and have reconsidered their hiring process. 

Madeline Zehnal, a teacher at Naperville North and the manager of Saybrook Bath and Racquet Club, is currently in the process of preparing staff, many of whom are North students, and club members for their uncertain summer season.

“I must wait to see what information is released from Governor Pritzker about the end or extension of the Shelter-in-Place order to finalize concrete details,” Zehnal said, “…but will not be charging fees until there is a clearer picture of what the season will look like.”

For the time being, many employers, workers and students on the job hunt remain unsure of what’s to come, with many anxious to return to a normal routine.

“It’s just such a big change, and I feel like I’m just missing out on so much,” Diaz said.