AUGUSTA – Where are all the seniors going?

If they’re not heading to college in the fall, they’ll likely be taking part-time jobs or working around home while they consider their future options.

When seniors enrolled in the Augusta-based Jobs for Maine’s Graduates programs — about 500 throughout the state — walk out of their high schools with diplomas just five weeks from now, they will face a brutal job market.

Unemployment rates are highest — 21.8 percent — for those age 16 to 19, according to 2010 figures from the Maine Department of Labor.

The Jobs for Maine’s Graduates students gathered last week at the Augusta Civic Center for fun and games, some learning exercises, and to display their talents.

Kayleigh Watson, a senior at Sanford High School, is in an enviable position as the holder of two part-time jobs: one at Barnacle Billy’s, a seasonal restaurant on the waterfront in Ogunquit, and the other as an associate at TJ Maxx.

She worked both jobs last summer, as well, and said she hopes the TJ Maxx post will become full-time in the fall.

“I enjoy the money, and I really need the money,” she said.

The Jobs for Maine’s Graduates program, Watson said, “brought forward a lot of job ideas, and the various colleges presentations made me question what I want to do.”

Another Sanford senior, Brianna Turner, wants a career as a pastry chef.

She is taking a culinary arts class at school and heading to Southern Maine Community College in the fall.

Robert Cameron of Burnham, president of the Jobs for Maine’s Graduates students at Maine Central Institute in Pittsfield, said junior and senior vocational students sought to participate in the program after it was offered to freshmen and sophomores.

“Instead of a study hall, we wanted to use our time better,” he said. “JMG would help us with job skills and skills for later in life.”

He said he’s already used the skills on the job at Burger King in Newport.

“I’m probably going to keep working there and pick up a second job to save for my goal of getting a motorcycle license,” he said. “JMG taught me to make a goal and achieve it.”

Longer-term, he is hoping to emulate his dad and have a career as a graphic designer, Web designer or IT specialist — jobs Cameron knows will require at least a two-year degree.

Sadie Dixon, a senior at Waterville Senior High School, said she’s waiting until graduation to seek work.

It’s too hard to fit in now between doing classwork and playing softball.

She will head to Hannaford supermarket to apply because a friend of her mom has offered to give her a recommendation.

“I definitely need to get a job because I’m going to beauty school in the fall,” she said.

Dixon hopes to follow in the footsteps of her aunt, who has her own beauty salon.

“I’ve always admired her,” Dixon said.

She credits Jobs for Maine’s Graduates — and Waterville teacher Joe Haney in particular — with “helping me understand life more” and with gaining the ability to speak to a crowd.

Willie Pelotte of Oakland, a junior at Messalonskee High School, already has a part-time job in the automotive department at Kmart in Augusta.

It fits perfectly into his race-car driving ambition.

“I actually race cars already,” he said. Mostly he races late-model stock cars. But in October, he’s heading to North Carolina to try NASCAR driving.

Jobs for Maine’s Graduates has helped him advance his public speaking ability.

“It probably gave me my job because it gave me better interview and resume-writing skills,” Pelotte said.

The students brought their creative skills to the Jobs for Maine’s Graduates conference, decorating booths with themes representing success.

Students at Baileyville’s Woodland High School, for instance, set a pair of sparkling ruby slippers on a stand in front of a backdrop “Follow the Yellow Brick Road to Success.”

Other booths featured food, drink, rap music and other marketing attractions for teens.

In a room in the north wing of the civic center, Mike Ross of Bath Iron Works instructed small groups of students on the rules for assembling plates of steel. The notched pieces had to lock into place to form a specified shape.

Then he watched as the teams all knelt on the floor, maneuvering the longer and shorter prices to try to get them to fit into the pattern in the fastest, most efficient manner.

“They only go together one way,” Ross said. He watches the groups to see “who’s the natural-born leader” and then to see who else asserts themselves in the team-building exercise.

Jobs for Maine’s Graduates is “a dropout-prevention and school-to-work program, but kids today need more. They need on-the-job training at trade schools or colleges,” said Lisa Gardiner, communications director for the program.

She said the program encourages the students to continue their education.

The Maine Department of Labor offers a list of in-demand jobs that require only a high school diploma.

However, Adam Fisher, department spokesman, added, “The greatest growth is in sectors that requires some sort of postsecondary education.”

Those who want to see current job openings can check the Maine Job Bank at