Teens Step Up To The Workforce In Time Of Labor Shortages


Siena McGarrigle, Co-Editor in Chief

If you are a teen in search of a job, now is the best time to enter the workforce. Businesses are looking to hire teen employees more than ever in response to unemployment and worker shortages.

This widespread shortage of employees has created difficulties for several local businesses.

“Some struggles are just being able to provide the proper service to our customers, customers who depend on us to be here and serve them,” said Kristen Kuzemchak, owner of Planet Smoothie Wake Forest. “Also to be able to keep the same hours. It’s just a huge concern around being short staffed, how it’s so unpredictable and not knowing what to expect one day to the next.”

Filippo Fanfani, owner of Amalias Authentic Italian Restaurant, details the challenges specific to restaurants that come as a result of being understaffed.

“I would say the number one struggle as a restaurant is that I cannot seat all of the people that come through the door because I don’t have the staff to serve them. Usually, my number one concern as a restaurant manager and owner should be to have every seat taken,” Fanfani said.

During this tough time, many businesses have resorted to raising wages in order to attract more employees. After conducting a survey of 61 students, we found that the polled teen employees make an average wage of $9.71 and have about nine months of work experience. 

Most businesses have increased their wages. Carolina Ale House Wake Forest has raised their starting wage for a hostess from $8.50 to $11 an hour in the span of a year, general manager Leigh Ann King said.

On the other hand, some businesses have chosen not to raise their wages.

“Giving higher wages to people for the sole purpose of getting them on the team is not productive.  A good team member either has a long record of productivity and value or joins the team and they are eager to show their worth,” said Rob Atkinson, owner of The Bike Guy.

Fortunately for several local businesses, teens in Wake Forest have risen to the occasion and are filling the gaps in the labor market. 

“We have been fairly lucky finding help after a shortage during June through August. Great high school employees make the biggest difference for us as far as having enough good help. Not all areas have the quality and quantity of high schoolers that we do in Wake Forest,” said Pat Cuningham, owner and manager of Village Deli & Grill Wake Forest.

Many businesses look to hire teens for the dynamic they bring to the workplace.

“I have noticed that having teenagers here provides a lot of upbeat personalities, so I feel like having teenagers has been great for our business,” Kuzemchak said. “There have been bumps along the road, but that’s always going to happen.” 

However, businesses do not just hire any high school students. Cuningham lists the specific traits he looks for when hiring teen employees.

“Qualities that we look for include a good personality, making eye contact, knowing how to talk to people in an attentive and respectful way, confidence and maturity are also key attributes for the restaurant business,” Cuningham said.

While there are definitely advantages to hiring teens, many business owners and managers find reliability to be more of an issue when it comes to teen employees.

“Teen workers tend to be a little less dependable than adult workers. Although some of this is out of their hands, teens are more likely to not complete a job, less likely to be on time and more likely to not show up for a scheduled workday than adults,” Atkinson said.

Most teens lack work experience, which causes businesses to have to devote more time training new staff members, but being new is not all a negative. 

“Teen workers are more malleable and don’t have any bad habits or are not set in their ways so in a way easier to work with or train. They also need more direction, attention and coaching than older employees, and a good manager goes a long way for teens having success at the job,” Cunningham said.

All in all, teens have a lot to offer local businesses, from their drive and willingness to learn to the energy they bring to the job. Atkinson explains why he enjoys having teens on his team of staff.

“We love hiring teens. Some of our best talent are teenagers who have a little bit of bike experience and a lot of passion for cycling. Best among these are athletes or former athletes. We think this is because they have worked in team environments, understand hard work and know how to put points on the board,” Atkinson said. “A lot of these guys are also self starters too. Motivation that comes from an inward drive, rather than needing someone to constantly stand over them to keep them moving along.”