Restaurant operators are scheduled to gather at Hollywood High in Los Angeles on Oct. 14 for a star-studded event designed to draw attention to a predicted casualty in the war for talent within the foodservice industry: America’s teenagers and young adults.
Across the country, workers are benefiting from higher minimum wage rates and employer healthcare coverage mandates. But teens aged 16 to 19 and young adults aged 20 to 24 are finding it increasingly hard to find work, says Riley Lagesen, who chairs the restaurant industry practice group of law firm Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, or DWT, which has a large hospitality practice.
Taste of Tomorrow is an extension of an invitation-only annual conference hosted by DWT called “Restaurant High: Hollywood Beginnings,” which is also scheduled to be held Oct. 13-14 at The Hollywood Roosevelt hotel.
Part job fair, part pep rally and part networking event, Taste of Tomorrow will include an estimated 1,500 young people from Hollywood High and other schools and community colleges who will be able to meet celebrity chefs, attend educational sessions with key business leaders, apply for jobs and eat food from some of the hottest restaurant concepts in Los Angeles. The event is free to students.
“For an afternoon, we want to give Los Angeles students a taste of what life could be like with greater access to job and mentorship opportunities and really great food,” says Lagesen.
Lagesen says restaurant clients are indicating that increasing labor costs will force them to move away from teens and young adult workers, who typically are seasonal, part-time and less experienced.
“We’ve asked them, ‘With wages going where they are, do you plan to hire more teens?’ The answer almost universally is that it’s difficult to justify hiring a teen with the type of wages that will be required,” adds Lagesen.
Restaurants have long been the industry of choice for kids as young as 16 to get their first job. But as labor costs increase for restaurant employers and minimum wage rates climb to $15 per hour in some markets — without a tip credit in Western states — restaurant jobs may be more difficult to find.
Teens and young adults were hit hard by the constricted labor market between 2000 and 2011, according to a 2014 report by the Brookings Institute.
Teen employment rates dropped from 45 percent in 2000 to 26 percent in 2011, the lowest rate in the post World War II era, the report says. For young adults, employment declined from 72 percent in 2000 to 61 percent in 2011.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, however, the teen employment picture has improved over the past year.
The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for workers aged 16 to 19 in September was 16.3 percent, down significantly from the 19.8 percent unemployment rate seen in September 2014.
Lagesen, however, says that decline is likely to be reversed as minimum wage increases take effect going forward.
He says one political solution is establishing a tiered minimum wage with lower rates allowed for younger workers.
Attempts at the state and local level to push through tiered-wage proposals have failed in recent years in California, but Lagesen wonders if there is a city or jurisdiction that may look at the issue and set an example.
At Taste of Tomorrow, business leaders, chefs and celebrities will also share their stories of how they got their start.
On hand will be chefs like Michael Mina, Susan Feniger, Ben Ford, Mary Sue Milliken, Ivan Orkin, Andy Ricker and Jet Tila, for example. Food will be served from concepts like Mendocino Farms, Lemonade, Tender Greens, Cava Mezze Grill and more.
Students will have the opportunity to apply for jobs with restaurant chains like Chipotle Mexican Grill, Panda Express, Sprinkles Cupcakes, and Fresh Brothers Pizza.
Educational sessions will be hosted by business leaders like Kimbal Musk, co-founder of The Kitchen Community and a Tesla board member; James Curleigh, president of Levi’s; and LiveNation executives Chris Adelmann and Mike Grozier.
Celebrities scheduled to host the event include Carla Hall, of ABC’s “The Chew,” actors Terry Crews and Judge Reinhold, and producer and TV personality Randy Jackson.