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Summer jobs aplenty for Ketchikan youth
Ketchikan Duck Tour Dock Rep Renzie Lorenzo directs passengers from the cruise ship Celebrity Eclipse to the duck boats on Friday at Berth 3. Lorenzo graduated with the Ketchikan High School class of 2019. Staff photo by Dustin Safranek

Daily News Staff Writer

For First City youth who are ready to join Ketchikan's workforce, there is no shortage of interesting jobs to be done.

Because of Ketchikan's lively tourist season, many businesses present unique and flexible job opportunities working with visitors who arrive on cruises. Many of those jobs are filled by high school age employees.

Four such businesses include the Alaska Crepe Co., Ketchikan Souvenir and Candy Company, Alaska Amphibious Tours and Southeast Sea Kayaks. Binding these companies together is a necessary commitment to customer service and a reliance on the tourism industry.

Piper Acteson, 15, and Hannah Marr, 17, have worked at the Alaska Crepe Co. since spring, preparing and serving crepes to crowds of locals and tourists.

Acteson first heard about the position from her culinary teacher at Ketchikan High School, where Acteson will be a sophomore this fall. This is her first job, although she has experience volunteering in the visitor's center at Totem Bight State Historical Park.

Marr, who will be a senior at Revilla High School in the fall, saw an advertisement for the job posted on Facebook. She previously has worked in a variety of retail and tourism-based environments. Marr also volunteered at Stonetree Veterinary Clinic, and hopes to become a veterinarian after high school.

“It was a very nice process, very easy,” Marr said about applying for the position.

The Alaska Crepe Co. does not require applicants to have cooking or customer service experience, but they do require a food handler's card, which can be earned by completing a high school culinary class or taking a test online at the State of Alaska's website.

At the Alaska Crepe Co., Acteson and Marr cook and serve crepes to customers. They both work three to four days a week, in shifts of five to seven hours.  

Training for the job was on-the-spot, and included instruction on using the commercial kitchen space. Marr recalled that during training on her first day, she burnt four crepes before learning how to successfully use the burners. Acteson said even though she “catches on quickly” to most things, the burners were a challenge, at first.

Both employees agreed that a difficult part of the job is dealing with customers unaccustomed to waiting for a made-to-order product.

In response, Marr believes that having “a smile on your face” is a good way to communicate with a frustrated customer.

Marr and Acteson both credit their co-workers for making the job an enjoyable experience, in addition to what Marr describes as an “insanely positive” work environment.

“It's definitely a really coveted job, I think, between high schoolers because it's just so fun,” Marr said.  

Similar to the employees of the Alaska Crepe Co., the young seasonal workers at the Ketchikan Souvenir and Candy Company – and its sister outlet, the Great Alaska Souvenirs and Gifts store – use customer service skills to better communicate with the store's target audience of summer tourists.

Brayden Gentry, 14, began working at the Ketchikan Souvenir and Candy Company in May. Cashlie Guthrie, 15, started work at the Great Alaska outlet of the company at the same time. They each filled out an application, but only Guthrie went through an interview process before being hired.

Gentry, an incoming Ketchikan High School freshman, was urged to apply by his brother, who said the work environment had been “fun” during his own time at the store.

 Guthrie, who will be Kayhi sophomore this fall, applied for her position after working as a grocery store cashier last year.

While Gentry and Guthrie work at separate stores, they are both responsible for restocking items and working at the cash registers, in addition to answering any questions customers might have.

Guthrie works four to five days a week in shifts of up to eight hours. She estimates that she is the youngest employee at Great Alaska. While Gentry is one of the youngest employees at the Ketchikan Souvenir and Candy Company, there are a number of other teenage workers – he said there were probably 10 other employees at the store, and six or seven of them are in high school.

Gentry said that so far, nothing has surprised him about the job.

“It's been pretty fun all around,” said Gentry, who works three to four days a week in shifts of eight hours.

He reported that the most difficult aspect of his job is when tourists ask questions he can't find the answer to, or when there is a language barrier with customers from foreign countries. Gentry often uses a pen and paper to help customers when he can't understand their language.

While Gentry finds communicating with some visitors difficult – although he said all of his interactions at the store have been positive – Guthrie was at first uncomfortable with the new position.

“At first, I was kind of weirded out,” Guthrie said, explaining she found it odd to introduce herself and make conversation with strangers in the store.

She elaborated that after some time getting used to the job, she relaxed.

Guthrie believes that most of the tourist customers in the store are friendly because they are trying to make a “good impression in a new town.” When customers are upset at the store, Guthrie tries to “be nice and work out what they're mad about.”

She said that the job has helped her become “more polite” and “develop people skills.”

 Retail stores are not the only businesses in Ketchikan that benefit from having employees conscious of their customer service skills.

Alaska Amphibious Tours — or, “Duck Tours” — is a seasonal company that gives land-and-water tours to visitors. Renzie Lorenzo, 18, and Liam Kiffer, 18, are two employees who recently graduated from Ketchikan High School.

Lorenzo has been working as a dock representative for four years, and said it was his “entire high school work history.” Kiffer learned about the job from Lorenzo, and has been working with the company for three years.

Lorenzo's job is to direct tourists who have bought tickets onboard their ships to the correct duck boat. He then takes the tickets to be “settled” and counted by another employee.

Kiffer spends his time on the job in the “Quack Shack,” a booth located on Spruce Mill Way that sells tickets to tourists as they walk off the cruise ships. He said it is very rare that he convinces someone to buy a ticket – they usually have the idea already in mind, or simply want more information about the tour before committing to the idea.

Lorenzo and Kiffer work flexible schedules that change depending on the number of cruise ships expected to visit Ketchikan that day. Their busiest days are generally Monday or Friday, and the months of July and August see the biggest ships come to town.

Lorenzo said it was good to see tourists who were excited to take a tour.

“It's nice to see that side of the tourists,” he elaborated.

 Kiffer describes the work environment as a dock representative as “hectic,” and said that the job “wakes you up in the morning.”  

“There are so many people running around, it's hard to get your voice heard,” he said. “I'm always next to a few other booths selling just the same kind of tours. It's a lot to take in, probably, for a tourist.”

Kiffer generally only sells tickets to duck tours, although he is permitted to sell floatplane tours from the same booth. He noticed that there is competition amongst many of the older employees who work on commission.

Kiffer said that as a dock representative, nobody treats him differently than other workers, and Lorenzo agreed. He added that “young people” are becoming the majority when it comes to being dock representatives.  

For both Kiffer and Lorenzo, staying busy throughout their shifts can be the biggest challenge, as the job is reliant on tourists' schedules and interests.

Southeast Sea Kayaks is another business that relies on providing tours for summer visitors.

Caity Pearson, 17, has been working seasonally with Southeast Sea Kayaks for three years, and leads six-person tour groups on a trip around Ketchikan's waters.

Pearson, who will be a senior at Ketchikan High School this fall, went through an informal hiring process that involved filing employee paperwork and being given an employee handbook. When the company switched owners, she went through a short interview process. She also has worked at the Gateway Aquatic Center as a lifeguard.

Pearson estimates she has one or two days off each week, and often receives notice of what tours she has been scheduled to lead via text message. There is no set schedule, as late bookings are a common occurrence for the company.

Pearson said she has “worked up” in her time with the company. When she began, she would clean the small office and help clients get in and out of kayaks or boats. Now, she takes groups out as the sole guide, cleans the office space and sets up refreshments for the kayakers after their tour.

She estimates that the average age of a tour guide is an individual in their mid-20's. She said that clients often are surprised when they find out she is 17, and are generally more “confident” being taken out in the water if they don't know her age until after the tour is started.

A typical tour consists of a 20 minute speedboat ride to the tour location before spending up to an hour and a half in kayaks. The route she chooses to take for the tour is dependent on many factors.  

“It depends on the weather, it depends on the kayakers,” Pearson said in a July interview. “My first tour this season, we didn't leave the side of the boat, but the last tour I did, we went pretty far.”

Pearson said that the only aspect of her job that is difficult is not knowing what type of people are in the tour group. She said it can be difficult to keep a conversation lively when language barriers or interests don't match.

To combat awkward silences, Pearson has learned to answer standard questions, which includes inquiries about herself and Ketchikan. The question she is asked most is about what the population of the town is

“You either are going to be talking a lot about Ketchikan or just kind of talking about yourself a little bit,” Pearson said about the job.

Pearson enjoys her job with Southeast Sea Kayaks.

“I guess I just like not knowing where the day is going to go,” she added.

Each of the employees from the Alaska Crepe Co., Ketchikan Souvenir and Candy Company, Alaska Amphibious Tours and Southeast Sea Kayaks all agree that their jobs are suitable for young employees. Their reasons range from an upbeat work environment to social opportunities, with an agreement that they have learned skills they can carry into future career fields.