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‘If anybody has kids that need a job, call me’: A restaurant taps teens to fill worker gap

·2 min read

As the U.S. economic rebound intensifies the need for workers, a number of businesses are turning to teenagers to fill their staffing shortages.

And teens want to work, with data showing more younger workers are punching time cards. More than 32% of teens have a summer job this year — the highest since 2008, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The restaurant industry is poised for a roaring comeback this summer, but understaffed eateries and the rise in COVID-19 infections may dampen growth. So for the moment, a growing number of restaurant owners like Laurie Thomas are hiring teens to help alleviate a labor crunch.

“I have one 15 year old,” Thomas said. “I have one 20-year-old and we’re interviewing another high school[er].”

Thomas has 2 Bay Area restaurants, and both are facing a shortfall of workers for entry level positions like runners and hosts.

“We haven’t seen a good response to ads for [those] jobs,” Thomas added.

Employment picked up, with 850,000 jobs added in June, compared to expectations of 700,000. Even as vaccinations have increased and restrictions have eased, the labor market remains tight because some workers, for various reasons, have opted not to come back.

Yet employers are noticing something new about the job applications they’ve been getting from potential employees: Most of them are teenagers.

“One approached me and the other one, I was in a meeting and said, ‘I'm serious, if anybody has kids that need a job, call me,’” Thomas explained to Yahoo Finance.

“The next day, the young gentlemen called me and we interviewed him and he's doing awesome.”

The mismatch between what positions need to be filled and what jobs teens are looking for is just one reason eateries are having trouble finding labor. With fewer college-aged students in town and ongoing unemployment extensions, the staffing pool remains stagnant.

“You just got to try it,” Thomas added.”If they want to do it, it's a great experience for them.”

Despite concerns over the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus spreading, a study by Oxford economics says that the leisure and hospitality industry, which includes bars and restaurants, could take certain states a longer time to recoup their job losses.

Still, restaurants remain the top teen employer, but data suggest doors are opening beyond fast food and malls. Some companies are dropping age and experience requirements so they can consider teens, while others are considering offering flexible schedules to accommodate extracurriculars and sports.

“I am going to make sure that they can handle school or whatever extracurricular, but if they want to work short shifts, we’re happy to consider that we’ve always had college kids pick up shifts,” Thomas said.

Dani Romero is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @daniromerotv

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