This blog was written for the Sustainable Restaurant Association and first appeared on Food Made Good blog site.
As an employer in the hospitality sector, you will be all too familiar with the statistics. A workforce that has almost three times more employees under 30 than the national average. A staff turnover rate (31% according to Deloitte) that’s nearly double the average for other industries. It’s not hard to put two and two together.
Whether or not you subscribe to the view that there’s an endemic “job hopper” mindset in the millennial generation, there’s quite clearly a big challenge in engaging young people in restaurant businesses – and a corresponding penalty for productivity. It’s time for some fresh thinking, based around a deeper understanding of how young people think and feel.
Years ago youth work conjured up images of table tennis and sausage rolls in drafty community halls. Nowadays it’s a robust, well established discipline that not only transforms the lives of thousands of young people every year but also helps all kinds of employers – police forces, the NHS, banks, mobile phone companies – to connect authentically and productively with the young people they work with. Perhaps surprisingly, given the age profile of bar staff, waiters and kitchen teams, the hosptality sector has yet to adopt its methods at scale.
Classically youth work operates outside formal education. Its focus is developing the mindsets and skills – often misleadingly described as “soft” – which equip young people to live and work successfully. And it starts by understanding what young people are up against. So, if wages are relatively low and jobs insecure in a restaurant business, young people may be facing fragile accommodation arrangements and – perhaps – long journeys home at night. If, as is often the case, they have moved to a new city for work, they can be lonely and miss their friends. Often young people are uncertain about their employment rights as well as the ins and outs of money management such as tax arrangements, saving and budgeting especially when accommodation costs are high. Factor in a pressured, fast-moving job and the stress begins to add up. For less resilient young people, especially if they lack support from friendship networks, there’s a real risk of mental illness.
Against that background, it’s not hard to understand why it may be hard for some restaurant businesses to get the best out of the young people they employ and to hang on to them as committed employees. But youth work can help – and we think it’s probably time the restaurant sector considered it as an option.
Youth workers use a whole range of tried and tested techniques to help young people negotiate the challenges of day to day living and working. They are trained to build positive relationships with young people, working with individuals or groups to develop their sense of agency and purpose. They are already employed in other sectors to work with more vulnerable young people. Could restaurants offer a youth-work-trained ‘support/advice worker’ to pick up issues with young staff who might be struggling with wider issues in their lives?
Alternatively the SRA’s new partner the National Youth Agency – the national body for youth work – can provide invaluable support.
Options might include..
- Financial training for staff – through peer education or direct to staff to help them sort out some of the financial issues that are often particularly acute for younger staff and apprentices
- “Health checks” and action plans – which companies could use to review how well they listen to their young staff and respond to their needs.
- Training for senior staff and then middle managers or shift managers.
This would help your colleagues to build their understanding of the wider challenges many young people face and then encourage them to think through how they might respond positively. Using a similar approach, Starbucks introduced interest free loans for rent deposits, on-line training, profit sharing and innovative bonus arrangements.