"You better get those grades up or you’ll end up flippin’ burgers!” has been the admonishment to teenagers since fast food establishments took hold in the US. Sixty years later, it may not be a bad idea to actually encourage young people to start flipping burgers. The results may just surprise everyone. As the US continues to witness the decline of employment amongst 16-19 year olds, it is critical to examine trends in youth employment and hear directly from those who employ first time entry-level job seekers under the age of 20.
Within a generation, there has been a dramatic change in youth employment. Consider that in the 1980’s, more than half of all teenagers held summer jobs throughout high school. Today, only one in three teens do. What can explain this decrease?
Technology, as we’ve mentioned in last month’s blog, has made some entry-level jobs simply disappear. Decreasing budgets for town summer camps and neighborhood pools as well as a decline in the number of jobs in amusement parks are other reasons. One perennial challenge is transportation to work. If a job does not fall on a bus or subway line, another opportunity is closed to a teen dependent on public transportation. There are others who simply choose not to work and rather seek to make themselves more marketable to colleges by taking extra courses, volunteering, or interning. Despite this, there are still many unfilled jobs that are suitable for young people.
“We’re hiring!” said Brian Niccol, CEO of Taco Bell. In a recent interview on NPR, Niccol explains the value of a first job. It is important for young persons to remember that entry-level jobs are commensurate with the skills the applicant possesses. If it’s a young person’s first job, his or her expectation should not be on the wage but rather to embrace the training, grow with experience and broaden skills and responsibilities. Niccol relays how one young Taco Bell employee dropped out of high school to earn money to support his family. The Taco Bell manager found out and supported the employee through the process of obtaining his diploma while working as well. This first job provided immediate income for his family and long term benefit of obtaining his diploma. “I think that gets lost in a lot of the discussion because, you know, it (fast food positions) can get categorized as a “dead-end” job, it’s got no future. And I just think that is so far from the truth.”
A frequent guest speaker to the Malcolm Pray Achievement Center, MPAC, who would likely agree with Brian Niccol is Peg Canniff. Peg Canniff started out as a 16 year old mopping the floors of a Burger King. As a young single parent, she continued working at Burger King, rising through the ranks from cashier to manager. By 30, she would form CanDu Management Corporation and open her first of four Burger King franchises in the Hudson Valley. MPAC interviewed Peg Canniff seeking her thoughts on employing young first time job seekers and her advice.
MPAC: On average, what is the percentage of your staff that is between 16 to 20 years old who are first time job applicants?
PC: Probably about 40% are under 20 and I would say about 60% of all I hire this is their first job outside of babysitting.
MPAC: Why would you hire a teenage applicant who never worked before?
PC: We hire people who have never worked before because forever, no one wanted to work in fast food and typically we were so looked down upon, really no one else applied. There are a few brave seniors (senior citizens) and those desperate enough to brave the front doors and apply. We have had many apply for management and thought he job was a piece of cake only to find out it is not as easy as some may think and quickly moved on! Our industry is geared to those new to the job market and our management teams know that each new hire is a challenge and when that new hire is trained and becomes part of the team—we all feel a great sense of accomplishment—most of us started at the bottom and are now running 2, 3 and 4 million dollar businesses and get paid fairly well to do it!
MPAC: Does the prospect of the young person not making a career out of staying in your employment negatively factor into your decision?
PC: No-definitely not—we know 90% will not stay but in the hopes that one will—we hire anyway! We realize we are only a steppingstone to “much greater things”. Funny- many (former employees) have come back over the years and thanked us for teaching them so much—how to hold a job, how to deal with customers from everywhere, how to deal with unhappy people and how to work as a team! And then there are a few who, once they get ketchup in their blood—they never leave!!! I have 4 restaurant managers who have been with me for over 20 years all who starts as entry level employees!
MPAC: From the employer’s side of the desk, what advice would you give a young person who is seeking his or her first job?
PC: For a young person starting out-be positive, be on time, dress accordingly, listen, ask questions, leave your cell phone out of sight at all times and be at team player and remember to work hard—you could own your own someday! You CanDu it!
Indeed, it is all in the young person’s approach and consequently what he or she makes of it that will determine if his or her first job will be a ‘dead end’ or a rocket launch pad for the rest of their working lives. Throughout the last 60 years, millions of young people have been employed by fast food establishments and many have become entrepreneurs and millionaires. Others left and launched other careers; Jeff Bezos, Jay Leno, Russell Simmons, Queen Latifah, James Franco, Carl Lewis, Paul Ryan, Barack Obama. Surprised?