Youth Employment in the Hospitality Sector


It is no secret that the hospitality industry (restaurants and hotels) provides valuable opportunities to inexperienced workers, especially those seeking additional formal education. More than one in every five “first paid jobs” is in the hospitality sector. More than 40% of all youth employed in the 1980s had held at least one job in the hospitality industry. In the present study, Bradley Schiller of American University documents key characteristics of the people who work in the hospitality industry. This report goes far beyond the conventional wisdom, providing new information on crucial factors about hospitality industry employment.

Supporting Continuing Education
One of the most important findings of Dr. Schiller's research is the extent to which the hospitality industry is a source of employment for individuals who are in school or are seeking to supplement their education. Perhaps more than in any other industry, the work force in the hospitality sector includes a heavy complement of individuals who are improving their education: more than 60% of the young people employed in the hospitality industry are also enrolled in school. (Nearly 40% of hospitality youth are in high school, while about 25% are in college.)

Over the course of the 1980s, hospitality employees added an average 41% more “years of schooling” to their resumes than youth employed in other industries, either by staying in school or returning for higher education. And more than two-thirds of all youth employed in the hospitality industry in 1980 completed additional schooling in the ensuing decade.

Far from being a harbinger for unmotivated employees in “dead-end” jobs, it seems the hospitality sector attracts a large number of young people actively engaged in furthering their education, as well as a modest number of noncollege-bound youth making a full-time commitment to the work force, though with relatively short tenure in the industry.

While most youth in the hospitality industry are continuing their education, there is striking evidence that noncollege-bound youth tend to seek employment outside this industry. Only 11 % of all employed noncollege-bound youth held hospitality jobs in 1980, well below the overall 18% of all employed youth who are in the industry. But within the industry, noncollege-bound individuals are significantly more likely to hold full-time positions than college-bound youth.

Perceptions of Employment
Whether they intend to go to college or not, young employees in the hospitality sector generally see their jobs as positive experiences. Nearly two-thirds say their jobs "provide good income." Three out of five believe they gain valuable experience from these jobs. Almost 80% say their jobs are secure. And 60% believe they have a good chance for promotion. Partly as a result of these positive perceptions, nearly 60% of young hospitality workers log at least three years in the industry. (Interestingly, however, only 15% of noncollege-bound youth stay in this industry at least three years.)