While the record low unemployment rate in the United States is certainly something to be celebrated, it can also cause a labor shortage for many industries. The restaurant industry is being greatly affected by the current labor shortage, and it seems that there is no end in sight.
According to the National Restaurant Association, 1.2 million fewer 16- to 24 year-olds will be in the labor force by 2028. There are many factors contributing to the increasingly low teenage to young adult labor pool. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics attributes a large portion of this trend to an increased emphasis toward education and attending college among teens, reflected in higher enrollment; more summer school attendance; and more strenuous coursework.
As an industry that depends on teen and young adult workers, we need to either learn how to draw in the best talent from this waning resource pool or find a way to replace these workers with other options.
Below are a few ideas to help appeal to the younger generation of workers currently available:
1. Promote job opportunities on their turf
If you are still dragging your feet about joining popular social media sites, you may be impeding your ability to find fresh talent. Teens and young adults are more likely to come across your job listings if they are posted on Instagram and Facebook than through traditional venues such as ads, signage or your website.
2. Offer hiring incentives:
While we all know that in our low margin industry, we can’t go overboard on bonuses. However, offering small rewards may go a long way in winning over candidates from competitors. Perhaps a one-time signing bonus, a 6- or 12-month retention bonus, or guaranteed merit increases at certain milestones is just the edge needed to increase staffing.
3. Ramp up employee perks
With minimum wage already on the rise for most of us, offering higher wages is just not an option for some. That’s when offering employee perks can be helpful. Offering employees a free meal for each shift worked or converting a full-time hourly employee to a salaried position can be just the perk that is needed to attract potential staff.
4. Offer differential pay for premium shifts
If you can’t afford to pay higher wages straight across the board, experiment with paying higher wages for certain shifts to ensure better coverage when you need it, such as weekends or holidays. Premium pay needs to be agreed upon in advance and outlined in writing which shifts are eligible (be sure to check out your local regulations and the rules set by the Fair Labor Standards Act to ensure that you are handling the process correctly.)
Should these tips still not bring in enough of the teenage to young adult employees needed to run your restaurant smoothly, consider these alternatives to fill empty positions:
1. Tap into a more mature market
In the same study mentioned above, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted that by 2028, there are projected to be 16.1 million adults age 65 and older in the labor force — a record high. This is a huge pool of untapped potential.
2. Employ foreign-born workers
Immigrants have always been an important part of the service industry. Although some of us have felt the pinch of changing federal immigration policy, there are still many immigrants who are part of the US Economy and eager to fill gaps in your schedule now and well into the future. According to 2018 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. workforce increased to 28.2 million foreign-born workers, and are more likely than native-born workers to be employed in service occupations.
3. Find tasks that can be automated
While we may not yet be prepared for a fully robotic dining experience, there are technologies available such as ordering kiosks, on-line reservations, automated dishwashers, etc. that can reduce the number of people needed on any given shift.
If the prediction of teen and young adult employees dramatically decreasing over the next decade comes true, sourcing, recruiting, and hiring good employees is going to become increasingly challenging; but it can still be done. It just takes some planning, persistence, and patience.