The Value of Service Sector Summer Jobs

By Cicely Simpson, Executive Vice President, Policy & Government Affairs, National Restaurant Association, NRA is a founding member of the Path Forward Coalition

Summer is a sacred time for students. Their days cooped up with books have come to an end, and a stretch of sun and care-free afternoons await. But for many of America’s teenagers, summer vacation is more than just a chance to take a break from the classroom. It’s an opportunity to gain valuable skills that they will take with them long after graduation. As teenagers and college kids fill their not-so-lazy summer days with flexible summer jobs, many of them will look to the service industry for not only a paycheck, but also as the first building block of their career.

At Path Forward, we know that the service sector offers workers a chance to start their careers, grow personally and professionally, and progress toward opportunities both inside and outside of the industry. A project of the National Retail Federation and the National Restaurant Association, Path Forward provides a voice for the businesses and employees that make up the retail and restaurant community. The service sector provides young people the opportunity to gain that first real job experience despite perhaps not having a degree or work experience elsewhere. This low barrier to entry is a unique attribute of the service industry and we are excited to dedicate May as “Season for Success” month. Throughout May, we will share the stories and outlooks of retail and restaurant businesses and workers as they continue, this summer and for years to come, to provide young people with rewarding summer job experiences.

Landing that first job can be tough, especially for young people who have not yet had the chance to acquire the skills employers value. Throughout the past several years, it has become increasingly difficult for young people to find summer employment. When combined, the restaurant and retail industry is the number one employer of the country’s working teenagers. As the service sector prepares for an annual hiring spike during the busy summer vacation season, this number is even greater. In fact, the restaurant industry is typically the nation’s second largest creator of seasonal jobs during the summer. Every year, 16-to-24 year olds rely on the service industry to give them their first shot at joining the workforce and job experience to start building their resumes.

While some young people look to summer jobs to earn money for tuition and school costs, these roles also teach the skills needed for success in any job a high school or college student wishes to pursue as they progress in their career. According to a 2015 Restaurant Skills Survey, 92 percent of respondents said their early restaurant jobs helped them learn and develop the attributes of dependability and reliability, and nearly nine in 10 said these jobs taught them teamwork, adaptability and flexibility, as well as the willingness to learn. Fostering these types of characteristics in young people sets them up to thrive both in the workplace and in life.

Managing a schedule of full-time work and school can be a balancing act. Part-time and temporary employment in the service industry allows students the flexibility to work around the school calendar. In fact, nearly 70 percent of part-time retail employees have chosen this schedule. For high school and college kids, accepting a summer job eliminates the stress of having to balance both work and school commitments come fall. For those students enrolled in summer classes, part-time work gives them the flexibility they need to be both dedicated workers and scholars. And when the tuition bill rolls in, many employers in the retail and restaurant sector offer assistance programs to help employees offset the cost of education.

Everyone starts their career somewhere, and for many Americans that place is the service industry. President Barack Obama recently reflected on his teenage days scooping ice cream at a Baskin-Robbins in Hawaii, saying “I’ll never forget that job — or the people who gave me that opportunity — and how they helped me get to where I am today.” Throughout the next few months, stores and restaurants will be doing just that. Helping millions of Americans take their first steps toward fulfilling, successful careers.