Employers Seek Non-Traditional Workers

Tight labor market means openings for retirees, former inmates.

March 05, 2020

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—In January, the U.S. unemployment rate was a low 3.6%, and three in 10 restaurant operators say they have job openings that are difficult to fill, reports the National Restaurant Association. In response, many restaurants and other employers are seeking non-traditional workers, including those older than age 65.

McDonald’s recently partnered with AARP to hire older workers, stating it wants to reach a “growing, yet underutilized workforce,” and the partnership makes sense. The number of younger workers is expected to drop sharply in the next five to 10 years, and there will be 1.2 million fewer 16 to 24 year-olds in the labor force by 2028.

Meanwhile, the growth of those 65-plus in the U.S. labor force is expected to jump more than 5% through 2026. Workers over 65 amount to the fastest-growing workforce segment, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and are expected to outnumber teenage workers by 11 million by the year 2028.

“We’re seeing restaurants working harder to attract younger workers with more benefits,” said Kristi Turner, chief marketing officer at restaurant software management company Compeat. “But we’re also seeing those who have retired from a career wanting to do part-time work. Older adults are healthier now, and they like working part-time because it allows them to be social. They’re such great employees because of their wisdom and maturity.”

Working with AARP, McDonald’s is piloting a program that aligns employer and candidate needs and interests through existing programs at the AARP Foundation. Bob Evans and Honey Baked Ham also have targeted job listings toward older workers through AARP, senior centers and churches. 

Just after McDonald’s announced its AARP partnership, the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation received a $4.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to develop model training and job placement programs for another group of non-traditional employees: young adults who are currently incarcerated or who were recently incarcerated.

The NRAEF worked with the U.S. Department of Corrections, community groups and state restaurant associations to create the job training program, called Hospitality Opportunities for People Entering Society (HOPES). According to Rob Gifford, NRAEF president, this has not been a demographic the restaurant industry has tried to attract, but the timing is right for that to change.

“Restaurants need more than 640,000 additional 16 to 24 year olds over the next 10 years to maintain the current level of teens and young adults in the industry,” he said. “With 600,000 individuals exiting the justice system each year, that presents the industry with the opportunity to get young people in the job market.” 

A study by the Manhattan Institute found that employment after getting out of prison reduces recidivism. The study indicates a 20% reduction in return to crime by nonviolent offenders, who make up most of the incarcerated population. This year, the HOPES program looks to enroll at least 560 individuals in its four pilot cities: Boston; Chicago; Hampton Roads and Richmond, Virginia. 

Still, the foodservice industry will continue to be a magnet for younger employees, and operators are wise to continue attracting, empowering and advancing the next generation of restaurant leaders. 

“While the younger workforce might be shrinking, what they’re looking for now is essential to keep top of mind as we compete to attract and retain them,” Gifford said. “If we succeed in meeting the younger generation’s expectations for today, we’ll have an even more compelling case to encourage the workforce of tomorrow to get their start in our industry.” 

For more on hiring younger staff, see “Next-Generation Workers” in the September 2019 issue of NACS Magazine.

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