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Everything you need to know about hiring & retaining teenagers during the 2021 labor crisis


Teenagers Return to the Workforce

Teenagers are flooding back into the workforce. And according to QSR Magazine, they’re coming back in numbers comparable to 2008. In May, 33.2 percent of Americans aged 16–19 had jobs, according to the DOL. Even after slipping to 31.9 percent in June, it’s still higher than pre-pandemic levels. And more notably, 33.2 percent is the largest count since 2008.

The year 2020 made waves in the QSR industry—Closures of dining rooms led to drive-through orders increasing substantially. The 2020 QSR Operational Index found that while transactions decreased by 9%, guest checks increased by 14%. And now, we’re facing what will come to be known as the restaurant industry’s 2021 labor shortage. Operators have had to shift from persuading consumers that it’s safe to dine in again, to focusing their attention on critical staffing needs to meet demand.  

This has brought forth a–somewhat unsurprising—trend: Teenagers are flooding back into the workforce. And according to QSR Magazine, they’re coming back in numbers comparable to 2008: “In May, 33.2 percent of Americans aged 16–19 had jobs, according to the DOL. Even after slipping to 31.9 percent in June, it’s still higher than pre-pandemic levels. And more notably, 33.2 percent is the largest count since 2008.”  

Historically, high school and college students make up a large percentage of the QSR workforce. How you manage them and how receptive you are to their scheduling needs can significantly impact your ability to hold on to the ones you have and meet your staffing goals once school is back in session, and this year, it’s more important than ever to retain this demographic of employees as we maneuver through this labor crisis.  

To give you a helping hand, here are some tried-and-true tips for navigating the challenges of recruiting and managing teenaged employees.  

1. Attracting: Try Some New Recruiting Methods  

This one might seem like a no-brainer, but many teenagers are new to the job market and aren’t necessarily sure of how to find work, or how to apply.   

Try some new tactics like:   

  • Go where they are. Post your job openings on school job boards or near schools (with the permission of the school district or administrators), or in spaces where teenagers in your area might hang out.  
  • Get creative on social media. Post job openings or advertise job openings on Facebook, Instagram, and even on TikTok–No, seriously: Chipotle recently announced they’ll be accepting job applications via TikTok.  
  • Open Interview Time. Hold chunks of “open interview” time on a weekly basis and post the times on a flyer around your store, as well as on your letter board outside your store. On the flyer and letter board, be sure to specify the minimum age to apply (Some minors might assume they’re not able to apply until they see their age group called out!)  
  • Make it Easy – and Digital! Ensure your application is easy to complete and submit online, and if possible, include a blurb somewhere in the process that communicates that prior experience is not necessary. Many teenaged applicants may get discouraged through the application process when the application asks to document the previous experience.  

2. Have a Solid Staffing Plan 

What are your staffing needs based on forecasted sales? Can one or more of your summer employees work short shifts covering busy times, during the lunch rush for instance?  

College students can be particularly useful in this scenario because typically they do not have classes scheduled all day. If you don’t already have an employee who can make this work with their schedule, do they have any friends who could? We all know that employee referral is one of the most successful recruiting methods.   

Ask for a detailed availability from all your employees who are going back to school and whether they have friends or classmates who might be interested in taking on a few hours per week.   

3. Keep Lines of Communication Open When Students Go Back to School  

Fall is coming and that means your teenage employees are going back to school. That’s okay, they will still need work, and all you need is open communication to ensure a smooth transition.  

It will benefit you to let your team know ahead of time that going back to school doesn’t mean you will not be able to provide them with work. Communication is key here. Be clear with them about your needs.   

Ensure they understand that 1) even one shift a week would be a great help to you, 2) you know their obligations at school are the priority, and 3) you will work around their commitments.   

  • Get a school schedule so that you know about days off, special events, homecoming, and conferences in advance.  
  • If your employees are involved in sports or extracurriculars, get those schedules as well to avoid any potential issues.  
  • If you can, get to know the families of your employees and keep in touch with them.  
  • Periodically touch base with your high schoolers regarding their grades. There is always a chance that the first parent/teacher conference will lead to turnover.  

4. Remember the Benefits of Employing Minors  

Many managers love the clean slate aspect of hiring minors. If the individual is motivated and willing to learn and comes to you without any preconceived notions or bad habits picked up at a previous job, they can be easier to train. They will work for less money than experienced workers, and while they are available for part-time hours, you won’t have the pressure of a commitment to full-time hours during slower periods. Also, assembling a larger, more flexible crew is a great way to combat employee fatigue, burnout, and costly over time. Lastly, you never know where your next company superstar will rise. One of your part-time new hires could end up running the show someday – Provide opportunities for professional development and ensure your training process is tight.  

The 2021 labor crisis has proved a trying time for QSR franchisees and operators and hiring teenagers is just a piece of the puzzle while trying to stay afloat. However, it may be necessary for the years to come, and being prepared for the scheduling and retaining of teenaged or student employees will help you get ahead and spare you undue stress. 


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