The chief of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources parks bureau says he’s worried a reduction in summer employees over the past few years means fewer young people are getting the experience they need to eventually take on a bigger role with the D.N.R.
Kevin Szcodronski says there’s so much competition for the jobs that are open, that they won’t even consider you unless you’ve worked several summers as a seasonal employee. “It’s pretty common for us when we have one position open that we may have sixty to eighty applicants,” Szcodronski says, “So you can imagine out of eight people it really takes that four year degree and four to five years.” Szcodronski says when the economy improves the department will have a host of vacancies to fill but he worries the talent pool will be shallow.
He says since the cuts have been going on for two or three years, there’s workers that have gone elsewhere and gotten experience or have changed their career completely because they’ve gotten frustrated. Szcodronski says that’s the long term effect that they are not going to realize for years to come.
Mike Howell has a Natural Resources degree from Northland College in Wisconsin with an emphasis on wildlife and fisheries ecology. The 26-year-old has spent the past four summers scrounging up any hours he can get in his field. But this summer the D.N.R. had few to offer so he was forced to take a lower paying parks job with AmeriCorps.
Eventually the state agency got clearance to add more seasonal employees and Howell jumped at the chance. “Most of my friends that I graduated with in Natural Resources, most of them that I know of have already moved on to other jobs,” Howell says, “Certainly I’m in a lucky position that I have a wife who’s working at a pretty good job too. But if I didn’t, I definitely wouldn’t be able to pay the bills going from seasonal job to seasonal job.”
Howell would eventually like to land a permanent position with the D.N.R. as a fisheries biologist or technician. Another example of the problem is Brandon Pease. As a college senior in 2008, he interned at Waubonsie state park in Southwest Iowa. Pease got hired on for the summer but was let go when the D.N.R. ran out of hours.
He spent a few months as a security guard before landing a job with the U.S.D.A.’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Page County. Pease says his old boss at the D.N.R. is always trying to offer him summer hours but never enough to make ends meet.
“I’m sure there’s maybe kids that are more fortunate enough that are able to work for the D.N.R. part time and not need a full time job. But unfortunately I don’t have that luxury so it’s either find a full time job somewhere else or starve to death basically,” Pease said, “So with the budget cuts and everything at the wrong time it just wasn’t a good fit for me.”
Howell says he could soon face a similar decision. During the winter he works for a temp agency and each summer it gets harder to leave a decent paying job for seasonal work, especially as the D.N.R. offers fewer and fewer hours. Howell figures he can hold out until his wife finishes her pediatric residency at the University of Iowa Hospitals.
In the meantime state parks officials hope they can provide the seasonal work that’s necessary to keep people like Howell in the system long enough to join the D.N.R. permanently in the future.