As the summer hiring market heats up, small and seasonal businesses may find they’re missing a key demographic to fill roles – teen workers.
Outplacement firm Challenger Gray projected teens will gain 1.1 million jobs in 2023, down slightly from last year’s numbers and the lowest forecast since 2011. The group said this spring that teens are once again working at pre-pandemic levels, but cautioned many teens who are willing to take on jobs are likely already in the workforce.
The unemployment rate for teens aged 16 to 19 crept up slightly in June to 11% from the previous month, according to Friday’s June jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Meanwhile the labor participation rate fell year on year, to 36.3% from 42.9% in June 2022.
That could mean fewer available workers for businesses like Grotto Pizza that rely heavily on teens, according to hiring manager Glenn Byrum.
Across Grotto’s 20 locations in Delaware and Maryland, teens make up a little less than a third of the company’s 1,100 workers. They’re always hiring, but staffed well for this summer, he said.
“They are a critical piece of our success,” Byrum said, adding both younger workers and J-1 visa employees help to staff seasonal locations at the beach.
“Teen hiring is always a process,” he said. “They seem to be much more cognizant of the flexibility in their jobs, how much they’re going to get paid, the work environment itself.”
Byrum described what he saw as a common mentality among young workers, born out of a wealth of job opportunities during the summer.
“If they don’t like something that employers ask them to do, even though it’s part of the job, they can easily go down the street and work somewhere else and find an alternate employment with the same wages or maybe even better,” he said. “So it just keeps us on our toes as far as making sure that we’re providing the best work environment we can.”
Grotto often starts teen workers above minimum wage, Byrum said, and provides incentives for some to move between locations as seasonal demand fluctuates.
Lexi Mathis, 16, was given a pay raise to work at a Grotto beach location for the summer months. She said the company is flexible with her schedule and the extra pay helps her to cover commuting costs as inflation has remained somewhat stubborn.
“I moved down here to try and make a little bit more money tips. And that was one of the best decisions ever because it’s been a big increase and subsequently they gave me a little bit of a pay raise,” Mathis said.
Hiring and labor availability has been an ongoing headache for small business owners in particular.
The dynamics of worker availability and needs have shifted in the wake of the pandemic, and owners often struggle to find skilled and unskilled workers to fill positions.
The restaurant sector is among those that has felt the sting of a lack of labor. The National Restaurant Association has said it projects restaurants will add another 500,000 jobs by the end of the year, but have seen just one job seeker for every two open jobs, enhancing competition for workers.
Makiah Grindstaff has worked at Famous Toastery in Davidson, North Carolina, for more than two years, during both the school year and summers. The high school senior has been saving up for several goals, and said pay can reach $25 an hour depending on the role she’s filling in the restaurant and what day of the week it is.
She and her friends take pride in having cash on hand to shop, dine and drive, Grindstaff said.
“I started driving and gas is expensive, and I wanted to start saving for college,” she said. “And I just want to be able to have my own money.”