100,000 Opportunities for the Youth of America

A hundred thousand: the number was hard to miss last week when Starbucks and 11 other high-profile private companies served up an initiative to train and hire at least that many young people ages 16-24 for what are called middle-skill jobs–jobs not requiring a four-year degree. The twelve companies, spearheaded by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and his Schultz Family Foundation, range from gig-economy startup Lyft to the largest bank in the United States, JP Morgan Chase. All belong more or less to the retail, travel, and hospitality industries, and beyond their name recognition or perhaps because of it, they also have in common a reputation for hiring young people.

So why the quota? Won’t these companies hire hundreds of thousands of millennials in the immediate future as a matter of course? Maybe not. Evidently the 5.6 million young Americans who are currently neither in school nor employed simply aren’t finding, getting, and keeping the 3.5 million unfilled middle-skill jobs out there.

This effort focuses corporate and philanthropic resources on doing just that for a “critical few” young men and women through apprenticeships, internships, training programs, and jobs. Starbucks has signed on to hire and train an initial 10,000 young people and this August 13, will launch the pursuit at a Chicago jobs fair where an estimated 2,000 youth will entertain 200 on-the-spot job offers.

The Opportunity Is Mutual

While the overall sample size may seem small, consider this: as a hundred thousand candidates process through schools, social services, and corporations to prepare for, secure, and hold multitudes of service-sector jobs all over the country, they should generate enough granular workforce data to overflow the very silos of Monsanto. The participating companies get their own special opportunities: not just dibs on the data, but chances to reverse-engineer any less-than-effective recruitment, compensation, and retention strategies.

In its coverage of the announcement, the Washington Post cited research showing, for example, that “HR departments often ask for a four-year degree even when it’s not necessary to do the job, simply as a screen for capability in a river of applicants.” That’s the kind of barrier a single company is unlikely to be able to break down but that an entire industry sector could begin to overcome.

The initiative targets high-unemployment populations like African American teens–whose unemployment rate has risen to 31.5 percent–in 21 communities where the barriers to education and employment of any kind are deep and wide.

But young people of all backgrounds will need some encouragement in order to choose foodservice work, it seems. Phil Lempert, a leading food industry analyst and correspondent for the Today Show, surveyed Millennials online this spring and found that the food industry overall has a poor image among them. Fewer than one in 10 sees it as “a good place to attain business grounding” (6.9%), according to his study: “More Millennials regard the food industry as “stodgy, slow, not too innovative” (12.2%) and “low status” (21.4%).”

Reality Check, Please

If you are unfamiliar with the diversity of enterprise within this broad industry sector, take a look at the “menu” below. It shows a possible median hourly-wage ranking for entry-level jobs, and it doesn’t even include all the worthy companies that have signed on to help educate and hire the 100,000. (We left off the companies for which we were unable to verify wage ranges.)

Now, consider that young people, and teenagers in particular, have been steadily declining as a percentage of restaurant workers. Over 58 percent of all workers in the industry are 25 and older, and 12 percent of these are 55 and older. Unprecedented numbers of those past traditional college age are also attending school. And it’s not just the workforce that has changed; there is vast disparity among jobs. Let’s look at Starbucks.

Starbucks starts entry-level servers at around $9 an hour–right at the much-criticized national average for food prep and serving workers. But add tips, benefits, stock options, tuition assistance, and other perks in the company’s Your Special Blend package, then hitch all that to the company’s advancement trajectory, factor in an employee retention rate that’s remarkably high for its sector, and you’ll see there’s no need to pity the barista handing you a frapp through the window, whatever their age.

Last month, QSR rockstar Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc., announced that salaried workers’ benefits would apply to all workers July 1. That includes sick pay, paid vacations, and tuition reimbursements that in some cases could extend to review courses for graduate exams like the CPA, GRE, and LSAT.

Opportunities like these might not be enough to get young people’s heads out of r/FindAPath – Reddit and into the service industry, but whoever gets the jobs, we all stand to benefit from a better-educated workforce.

Median hourly wages chart for 100000 Opportunities Initiative jobs

Starbucks wages are the tip of the compensation iceberg.

Elaine Evans
Elaine Evans Elaine Evans is thrilled to blog for KaTom, where her work in restaurants, bars, catering, and artisanal food has caught up at last with her career in journalism and public relations writing. Connect with Elaine Evans on Google+
  1. July 23, 2015 at 4:17 pm, Aubrey Duffy said:

    Fascinating! I love how this blog covers all aspects of the food industry; equipment, legal stuff, recipes and now, economics.


  2. July 23, 2015 at 9:18 pm, Dennis Duffy said:

    Nice going, Elaine.