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Crain’s Chicago Business reports that McDonald’s – like many of its peers in the fast food business, as well as competitors in other retailing venues – is facing a workforce crunch that is directly connected to a lack of teenaged employees interested in working there.

“The declining number of teenage job-seekers presents a super-size challenge for McDonald's, where 40% of the top 50 managers — including CEO James Skinner — worked their way up from the cash register or fry vat, and which more than ever needs qualified workers to keep service from bogging down in an era of computerized cash registers and electronic ovens,” Crain’s writes.

The story outlines the hard, cold facts:

• “In the 1990s, 45% of its U.S. employees were under 20. Today it's 33% of the workforce, which totals 650,000 employees.”

• “Last year about 44% of American teens held jobs, down from nearly 60% in 1982. The reason isn't clear, but many attribute the shift to an intensified focus on academics and after-school activities.”

• “About half the employees in the fast-food industry are between 16 and 25 years old. The number of jobs in the industry is expected to increase about 17% in the next decade while the number of workers in that key age group is expected to increase 0.3%.”

In other words, the math doesn’t look good.

Crain’s notes that while McDonald’s is working harder at recruiting, even using some of its TV commercials to appeal to potential employees, the company and his franchisees are working hard not to take the step that they see as a last resort – raising wages.
KC's View:
Raising wages would certainly help, so the unwillingness to do so makes me question whether the company is really committed to finding and hiring the new kind of talent that could eventually help to run the company.

But the bigger problem, I think, is that there doesn’t seem to be anything aspirational about a job at Mickey D’s. Even teenagers want to feel good about where they work -0 trust me on this one, I have two teenagers and a 20-year-old. My 13-year-old daughter already is trying to figure out where she wants to work when she turns 16…and while she likes ideas like Starbucks (where her older brother works) or the Panera Bread Co., she’s never, ever uttered the phrase, ‘Maybe I’ll get a job at McDonald’s.”

I’m not sure whether the company’s culture changed or whether teenagers have changed since current CEO Skinner was saying, ‘Do you want fries with that?” But something changed…and I don’t see any sign that it is changing back.

This is a trend that more retailers have to pay attention to: how do we turn our companies into desired, aspirational workplaces?