According to Pew Research, just 35 percent of teens now get a summer job and only 28.7 percent of 16- to 19-year-olds have a year-round job. That’s far down from 2000, when 51.7 percent of teens had a summer job and 43 had a job through the year.The average franchise operator doesn’t need much data to know that that employment has changed dramatically; they see it every day. This might be the worst period for anyone hiring hourly workers in the past several decades.
“I think for the hourly population in my career, this is probably the most complex and difficult,” said Mike Zorn, VP of workplace strategy at WorkJam, a digitized workplace management and communication system.
Zorn has been watching these workers that make up the backbone of restaurants and retail for more than 30 years. He said there is a confluence of factors keeping the traditional young part-timer from the workforce.
More and more, they’re focused on education, internships or community service to pad their college applications instead of making a little money. Maybe allowances have risen significantly since the ’90s, but young people are much less motivated by money today.
“Just spending more money doesn’t motivate people,” said Zorn. “You have to pay fairly, but just paying more may get them to come but doesn’t get them to stay.”
So what does resonate with the teens of today? Culture, community and meeting teens where they are.
On that note, there are a lot of simple things that anyone can do, such as giving in-the-moment feedback or throwing out the boring training binder and shooting some quick videos with a phone instead. McDonald’s, for one, had moved toward a more digital training ecosystem because “they’ve accepted the fact that training manuals are outdated,” said Zorn.
Communication between employees and with the company has become a major perk. For one, it puts young employees in the mix, part of something bigger than themselves. It might sound a little odd that a 16-year-old wants to feel like they’re part of Taco Bell, but Zorn said it’s really what everyone wants, to some degree.
“There are years and years of studies around that. What motivates people is having a voice in the workplace. I think there are good employers that are giving them a voice, making them feel like they’re valued in the work place,” said Zorn.
He points to WorkJam’s own version of communication, but there are many others that connect employees to each other and the company, even bypassing the typical managerial layer of oversight.
“What you’re seeing good employers doing is allowing more direct communication from home office to employees and from employees to home office,” said Zorn. “And even taking mangers out of that equation, not because they did anything wrong but because you can’t find anyone there. So you have a creep from about seven people under management to about 50 people—and you can’t be there for all those people.”
More flexible scheduling is another way to carve out room between sports, internships and community service.
“Up until about two or three years ago, you told people when to work, you gave them a schedule and if they didn’t want it, they quit,” said Zorn. “The No. 1 reason people left was their schedule.”
Now through WorkJam (and other digital employment suites), employees can trade shifts, pick up additional hours and coordinate schedules with or without their manager getting involved.
But above all, Zorn said young people are looking for a community feeling in their workplace. Whether that’s via career “parties” where prospective employees can try some food, get some swag and have frank conversations or more at-work volunteer options, it’s not just a matter of gas money anymore.