There is perhaps no experience more valuable in the development of a young person’s life than the opportunity to learn on the job, under real world circumstances. I began my career in the retail sector at a men’s clothing store in my hometown of Baltimore; an experience that provided me with the foundational understanding of what it means to work hard to succeed, and one that continues to define who I am today. The benefits of working at a young age are supported by the numbers, too. According to the PEW Research Center, for every year a teenager works, his or her income during their twenties rises 14 to 16 percent.

With a low barrier to entry, the restaurant and retail sectors are fertile ground for skills training and continued learning for young people of all backgrounds, in all corners of the country. In fact, one-third of all working teenagers in the U.S. are working in the restaurant industry, and many students who start in restaurants stay and advance to more lucrative jobs in the business after their first job. Additionally, 90 percent of restaurant managers and 80 percent of restaurant owners started in entry-level positions. So, not only does the restaurant industry provide jobs for teens, but these jobs are dynamic and allow for maturity, continual training, skills development, and entrepreneurial pathways.

According to an analysis of U.S. Department of Labor data by The New York Times, service sector jobs require the kind of social skills and experience which come from working  with customers; skills that are highly transferrable to other industries. Customer service, time management, teamwork, and punctuality are all skills that can be learned in the service industry. Certainly, highlighting the opportunity to develop these highly valuable and transferrable skills are one way service industry employers can attract young workers. It is also up to the service industry to ensure that young workers are effectively engaged and managed in order to learn these skills.

So, to be more specific, how does the service industry best maintain momentum to attract, develop, and nurture young talent? Here’s one approach: this generation of young workers is increasingly digitally focused. It is becoming more and more essential that service sector employers maintain a strong digital and social media presence. Hard Rock Café capitalized on using social media as a tool to fill job positions at one of its newest locations by using targeted advertisements and including job applications on Facebook. As a result of this practice, ninety-five percent of candidates who received job offers actually accepted. Seemingly small tactics—placing applications online, including job openings on social media, advertising on social media, and connecting with local educational institutions—are all incredibly helpful in reaching young workers.

In addition, nurturing young talent continues in on-the job scenarios. Access to training, mentors, and scholarships are all important ways to keep young workers engaged. Teens today are used to not only being told what to do but being told why, which explains why it is beneficial to give them instructions paired with explanations. Going back to the digital theme, the use of videos in training can help to teach younger workers as well. Honeygrow, a popular Philly based eatery, has implemented a virtual reality program into its new employee orientation and training. This has allowed for standardization of training across Honeygrow locations as well as a dynamic, tech-driven learning environment.

As the service industry continues to attract and offer opportunity to young workers it is vitally important that restaurant operators and retail shops, like the one where I got my start, continue to identify and work with nonprofits, align with public-private partnerships, and invest in training programs for their employees.

Broderick Johnson, partner at Bryan Cave LLP and senior advisor to the Path Forward Coalition, is former Assistant to the President and Cabinet Secretary under President Barack Obama and former Chair of the White House My Brother’s Keeper Task Force. He serves as a Senior Advisor to the Path Forward Coalition, which focuses on raising awareness about the important role the service industry plays in strengthening our workforce by empowering millions of people so they have the tools, benefits, and skills they need to learn, grow and build lifelong careers.
Employee Management, Outside Insights, Story