Restaurants Are Key to Training America's Workforce

As the first semester of the new school year is well underway for millions of students across the United States, we want to recognize the growing number of young people in this country who are pursuing an alternative path - one that gets them real world experience in the job market.

In the restaurant industry, we are firm believers that you shouldn't need a costly four-year degree to succeed in America - and we welcome and value anyone who is willing to work hard and learn on the job, regardless of their background. That's especially important today as the youth unemployment rate stubbornly stands above 11 percent - and upwards of 20 percent among African American young people.

Data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center shows that college enrollment has declined for the fourth straight year, with overall enrollment down by six percent since 2012.

These young people who opt out of higher education need jobs that will equip them with the skills they need to succeed for the rest of their lives. That's where restaurants come in. Restaurants are the classroom for any career.

Restaurant team members who enter the workforce with little or no experience learn vital professional skills on the job. A report by the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation shows first jobs in the restaurant sector help people develop crucial skills and attributes necessary to be successful in the workforce - regardless of industry. The survey of current and former employees shows that 94 percent agree that the restaurant industry is a good place to get a first job and learn fundamental working skills such as dependability, teamwork, and flexibility.

While these professional skills will serve people well in any career, many employees choose to stay in our industry. Our research shows that 75 percent of restaurant employees believe they have the opportunity for career advancement in the industry, with 80 percent of restaurant owners and managers having started in entry-level positions.

Of course, restaurants also provide needed flexibility for students, too. More than one-quarter of all restaurant employees in the United States are students. And students who are waiting tables to help pay tuition have a lot more to gain from restaurant jobs than good tips. They learn and develop crucial skills and attributes necessary to be successful in the workforce.

As we work to build a 21st-century workforce and combat rising income inequality, we should encourage these types of career opportunities and the on-the-job training they provide to the more than 14.4 million Americans employed in the restaurant industry.

The restaurant industry is one of the largest private-sector employers in the country this year, but its value is much more than economic. Americans who worked in restaurants as one of their first jobs are valuable assets to the communities they join, having learned the dependability, flexibility and initiative required of them from their very first shift. The restaurant industry sets people up for success for the rest of their lives.

We believe in the potential of every restaurant employee to continue on the upward path that began here, in a restaurant. When restaurant employees go on to own their own business or excel in another industry, they will carry with them all the tools for success they could possibly need.