As the summer employment market heats up, small and seasonal companies may find they’re missing a key demographic to fill in roles — teen workers.
Outsourcing firm Challenger Gray projected that teens are expected to have 1.1 million jobs in 2023, down slightly from last year’s numbers and the lowest projection since 2011. The group said this spring that teens are working again at pre-pandemic levels, but it warned many teens who are likely to be willing to take on jobs already in the workforce.
The unemployment rate for teens ages 16 to 19 rose slightly in June to 11% from the previous month, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ June jobs report released on Friday. Meanwhile, the job participation rate fell year-on-year to 36.3% from 42.9% in June 2022.
That could mean fewer workers available for companies 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 just under a third of the company’s 1,100 workers. He said they are always hiring, but they are doing well for this summer.
“They are an important part of our success,” Byrum said, adding that both youth workers and J-1 visa employees help place staff at seasonal locations on the beach.
“Hiring teens is always a process,” he said. “They seem to be more aware of the flexibility in their jobs, the amount they’ll be paid, and the work environment itself.”
Byrom described what he saw as a common mentality among young workers, which had grown out of the wealth of job opportunities over the summer.
“If they don’t like something their employers are asking them to do, even though it’s part of the job, they can easily go out on the street and work somewhere else and find alternative work that pays the same or maybe even better,” he said. “So it keeps us on our toes as far as making sure we offer the best possible working environment.”
Grotto often starts teenage workers above minimum wage, Byrum said, and provides incentives for some to move between locations as seasonal demand fluctuates.
Lexi Mathis, 16, got a pay raise to work on the Cave Beach site during the summer months. She said the company is flexible about her schedule and that the extra pay helps her cover commuting costs as inflation has remained somewhat stubborn.
“I moved here to try to do more tips,” Mattis said. “And that was one of the best decisions ever because it was a big raise, and so they gave me a small raise.”
Staffing and labor availability has been an ongoing problem for small business owners in particular.
The dynamics of worker availability and needs have changed 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 feeling the sting of the labor shortage. The National Restaurant Association said it expects restaurants to add another 500,000 jobs by the end of the year, but it has only seen one job seeker for every two open positions, reinforcing competition for workers.
Makiah Grindstaff has worked at Famous Toastery in Davidson, North Carolina, for over two years, during the school year and summer. The high school freshman has been saving for several goals, and said the pay can be as high as $25 an hour depending on what role you have at the restaurant and what day of the week.
Grindstaff said she and her friends take pride in having cash on hand to shop, eat and drive.
“I started driving, gas is so expensive, and I wanted to start saving for college,” she said. “And I just want to be able to have my own money.”