Ahrihanna Bentley is a 14-year-old in her first job at the Nonantum Resort in Kennebunkport. Bentley is part of a surge of young teen workers coming into the Maine workforce as employers pull out all the stops to fill open jobs. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Ahrihanna Bentley loves her first job. She spends her days working with children and adults at the Nonantum Resort in Kennebunkport – making bracelets, doing crafts, catching crabs, kayaking and baking pizzas.

At 14 years old, Bentley earns hourly pay well above minimum wage and she’s saving up to buy a car. She’s hardly alone, part of a growing cohort of young teens joining the Maine workforce in record-breaking numbers.

“A lot of my friends are getting jobs. My best friend was hired today and the rest are looking for jobs as well,” Bentley said. When her summer gig at the Nonantum ends, she plans to find new work for the autumn and winter.

“Lots of people my age are looking for independence and a paycheck that is their own to spend any way they feel like,” Bentley said. “I think it is really unfair for people to say teens are lazy. Most of us are trying hard in school so we can get jobs.”

The number of 14- and 15-year-old teens getting into the workforce is likely to hit a new record this year as employers in the midst of a labor shortage pull out all the stops to fill open jobs.

Maine teens applied for nearly 4,800 minor work permits – required to hire teens under 16 – in the first half of the year, shooting past a record-setting 2021 and far outpacing the average yearly permit requests for the previous two decades.


Surging interest in teen workers is a sign of how stretched hotels, restaurants, retail and entertainment businesses are to fill open jobs, said Greg Dugal, director of government affairs at Hospitality Maine, a trade group.

“I really think it is the fact that most people are anywhere from 60-75 percent staffed and feeling like they cannot get beyond that,” Dugal said. “At that point, you start looking for alternatives, you take away the stereotypes you might have.”

In past years, employers have been reluctant to hire teens so young because of state restrictions on where and when they can work, resistance to paying them as much as adults and perceptions that young workers are unreliable.

That reluctance seems to be eroding, Dugal said. In 2021, employers were approved for more than 6,500 teen work permits, the highest number on record and almost 40 percent higher than two years before.

More than a third of those young workers applied for jobs in food service and hospitality, an industry still recovering from a gigantic labor loss at the start of the coronavirus pandemic more than two years ago.

Older workers left typically low-wage roles in food service and hospitality to take better-paying and more prestigious jobs in the industry and elsewhere. That’s left a gulf that teen workers can help fill, even if they can’t do everything in a restaurant or hotel, Dugal said.


“That has always been the rub. Employers don’t want to hire someone that young because of the restrictions. Ultimately, at the end of the the day that isn’t a decision they can make anymore.”

In Maine, 14- and 15-year-olds are prohibited from working in many hazardous industries and performing some tasks in kitchens and hotels. Young workers can work in a hotel lobby or office, for example, but cannot clean rooms or make room deliveries. They can bus tables, clean floors, prepare some beverages and cook on grills and stoves without open flame – but they can’t bake, use a fryolator or high-speed ovens or work in freezers.

In order to get a work permit, teens under 16 years old have to have good school grades and attendance and permits  signed by their parents and school superintendents.

The hours they can work are constrained, too. During summer vacation, minors can work 40 hours a week from 7 .a.m to 9 p.m., but no more than six days in a row. When school is in session, they are limited  to 18 hours a week and to three hours a day on school days including Fridays.

Matthew Levin has shied away from hiring younger workers at the three Camden hotels he manages, precisely because they aren’t allowed to do everything he needs workers to do.

This summer, he’s making an exception and tailoring a position for a teen soon to turn 16. Overall, hiring has been better this year than last, Levin added. At least now, if he posts a job he’ll get applicants to come interview and maybe show up for work. But he sees advantages in hiring people young.


“We would be open to hire more at that age,” Levin said. “I feel that is a very capable age to hire that is still willing to do great work, moldable, impressionable.”

It is no surprise that some teens want to get jobs now, given that hectic competition for workers has sent hourly pay skyrocketing since the pandemic began. Across Maine, the de facto minimum wage is $15 an hour, well above the official $12.75 minimum. Many places advertise starting hourly pay in the $18-$20 range.

That’s brought young workers out in droves. Last year, high school athletic directors scrambled to reschedule fall sports practices to accommodate teens busy earning a paycheck.

“Employers are doing everything they can to attract people, including enhancing benefits and offering above minimum wage. That can be really attractive for a young person who is potentially thinking about getting a job or a summer job,” said Maine Department of Labor spokesperson Jessica Picard.

The Nonantum Resort in Kennebunkport hires at least 10 kids a year, mainly to watch younger children as activities counselors.

Working with young teens has its challenges, said innkeeper Jean Gin Marvin. Their attention span can be limited, overbearing parents can be stressful to deal with and inevitably some teen worker takes off on a family summer trip without getting shifts covered.

But for Marvin, getting those kids in the door and earning their first paycheck is worth the occasional headaches.

“They may not be ideal workers when they are 14 and 15, but when they are 16 and 17 they are pretty terrific,” Marvin said. “I feel like we are planting the garden for the future.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 1 p.m. on July 18 to correct the process for applying for teen work permits.

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