The image of the burger-flipping teenager is fading as more high schoolers shun the workplace. In their place, operators looking to fill vacancies have turned to the other end of the spectrum: much older adults and retirees.
Numbers from the National Restaurant Association tell the tale.
Back in the 1970s, about 58 percent of all 16- to 19-year-olds had jobs. That percentage stayed above 50 percent until 2001, then started trailing off. The Great Recession really took a toll on teenaged employment, presumably because out-of-work adults were out grabbing anything they could find. As a result, between 2007 and 2014, the number of teens in the U.S. workforce fell from 41.3 percent to 34 percent. In sheer numbers, that means 1.4 million fewer teens were available to fill posts.
Restaurants have seen their share of younger help drop accordingly. In 2007, teenagers represented 20.9 percent of the workforce; by last year, that figured had dropped to only 16.6 percent. The restaurant industry remains the largest employers of teen workers, with some 1.5 million teenagers working in foodservice—about a third of all working teens. But clearly their ranks are eroding.
Who is taking those jobs?
Millennials and Gen X and Y members, for starters, are filling many foodservice slots. The share of restaurant jobs held by 20- to 24-year-olds rose from 21.4 percent in 2007 to 24.2 percent in 2014, the NRA says. The number of their 25- to 24-year-old colleagues also grew slightly, from 23.1 to 23.7 percent.
A more dramatic trend is the number of 55-plus recruits to the business. Individuals in that demographic jumped 38 percent during the 2007-2014 period, representing an increase of 218,000 restaurant workers.
“Youth workforce participation has been declining for years, and teenagers have traditionally been a significant part of the industry’s workforce, often filling part-time and seasonal positions,” says Hudson Riehle, the NRA’s senior v.p. of research. “However, aging baby boomers are staying in the workforce longer and filling some of those positions. And though older adults are a relatively small proportion of the industry’s workforce now, that number will only expand in the future.”
As the ranks of potential 55-plus hirees rises, restaurant operators should keep in mind some additional virtues of the older applicant.
“As a group, mature workers possess several desirable job-related attributes compared to their younger counterparts, including lower absenteeism, greater commitment, fewer on-the-job injuries, greater job satisfaction, less stress and lower likelihood of drug abuse,” wrote Kent State University professor Swathi Ravichandran in a blog for Restaurant Hospitality.