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Take it from your local restaurant: Hiring youth is good for business

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Carrie Leishman

Who wants to hire young employees who need flexibility for sports, may not be able to work late on weekdays, have little or no work experience, and may need to schedule shifts around family vacations?

More and more employers are saying yes and expanding their job opportunities to include teenagers – a longtime practice in the restaurant industry.

Restaurants hire more young people than any other industry. They train and develop talent and provide a pipeline for tomorrow’s professional workforce. Restaurant jobs build both technical skills and valuable soft skills needed in any industry. Working in restaurants is also fun!

But after the longest stretch of continuous job growth on record, the United States is facing one of the most severe worker shortages of the past 20 years. Employers in all fields are lamenting a lack of skilled applicants. And according to leading HR professionals for the country’s top Fortune 500 companies, soft skills are lacking among new hires. According to the National Skills Coalition, there are more than 5.9 million job openings in the United States and 6.6 million unemployed Americans.

The skills gap is a major reason why these jobs continue to go unfilled, especially for those that do not require a four-year college degree. Employers, meanwhile, are beginning to look seriously at teens.

But it’s more difficult to recruit teens than ever before. The pool of 16- to 19-year-olds looking to work has steadily declined for years. Year-round sports, academic enrichment programs and parents willing to foot the bill for car insurance and vanilla lattes is much to blame. Over the last few decades, pressure to get into a “good college” took precedence, and working a summer job became less important than participating in lacrosse.

Teens in the workforce declined from a high of 55 percent in the late 1980s to a dwindling number projected 1 in 4 by 2024 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For those who choose to work, it is a great time to do so. In fact, the 12-month unemployment rate for teens in March was 13.9 percent, the lowest since 2001 and half that during the height of the recession when older workers were filling roles in jobs historically saved for teens. An increasingly tight labor market is pulling many people, including teens, back into the workforce.

This new generation of teens are entrepreneurial, innovative and creative. According to a Gallup Poll, 50 percent of middle and high school students say they want to start their own business or invent something. They absorb training very quickly and have a mindset for learning. As a tech-dependent generation, they are at ease with technology and savvy with social media. They are also comfortable with cultural diversity.

Nationwide, the labor shortages are forcing many non-traditional employer groups like health care and manufacturing to consider using teens. Interested companies should adjust HR practices, understand labor and safety rules, and fully invest in training that will attract future talent.

By opening your doors to our youngest workers, you not only cultivate Delaware’s next generation of entrepreneurs, professionals and future leaders, but will be amazed at the adaptable skills, energy and willingness to learn from your newly hired employees.

Carrie Leishman is the president & CEO of the Delaware Restaurant Association & Delaware Restaurant Association Educational Foundation.

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