In our modern world, education is of fundamental importance. Those who hold a college degree, whether it’s a bachelor’s or master’s, are typically held in higher esteem than those who don’t. Even today, young people just entering the workforce may receive advice such as, “make sure you go to college or you’ll end up flipping burgers.”
Generally speaking, the service industry is seen as a sort of stepping stone towards a “real” job and career. To many, the idea of long-term restaurant employment feels unpleasant, even demeaning. Indeed, various media sources regularly perpetuate the idea, with headlines that almost border on the sensational: In 2018, for instance, a writer for Creative Loafing warned of the possibility that college graduates could get “stuck” in the service industry due to lack of opportunity.
This mindset is problematic on many levels; yet it’s unfortunately rampant throughout the service industry. The reality is that college isn’t the right choice for everyone, and it’s entirely possible to make a more-than-decent living in a service- or trade-based occupation such as bars and restaurants. And in many cases, wage workers in the service industry, especially bartenders and servers, may earn significantly more money than management.
Why should those workers be made to feel as though their job is less important than other occupations?
As we continue to adapt to a changed world thanks to the pandemic, it’s time to finally shed the stigma of service industry jobs, and change the way we perceive higher education.
Service Industry & Education: Behind the Scenes
The general perception in the 21st century is that formal education is the most direct path towards long-term financial success and security. Of course, that concept is a relatively new one: Higher education was a fringe concept until around the late-1800s, and even then, it was primarily confined to the upper class.
Further, the vast majority of U.S jobs only require workers to have a high school education or equivalent certificate. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that 66% of jobs in 2013 were available to those without a college education. States with the highest concentration of such occupations include Nevada, Hawaii, South Dakota, and Florida.
However, the starting salaries for entry-level and service industry jobs are typically low, averaging around $20,000 annually. For this reason, many workers choose an alternative path, one that could be considered a higher education of sorts: Trade school.
A Push Towards Trade-Based Occupations
Similar to the apprenticeships of the past, trade school allows workers to specialize in a particular hands-on field. Trade-based occupations run the gamut from cosmetology and carpentry to farming and truck driving. And among workers without a college degree, those in traded industries earn 38% more than their counterparts in other occupations.
But that’s only part of the story: The sad reality is that traditional higher education is still held in higher esteem than trade schools, but there are indications that the tide may be shifting. In fact, skilled blue-collar workers are in high demand, even as young people across the country continue to view college as the most direct avenue to a successful career.
For those young people who are wary of taking on substantial debt in the pursuit of a college degree, trade-based occupations can be an attractive alternative. Legal experts claim that trade workers can earn two or three times as much as an office worker, without the need to take out massive student loans. What’s more, blue-collar workers may be happier overall, despite the cultural perceptions of skilled trade jobs.
Turning Service Jobs Into Careers
For many people, working in service jobs like hospitality or food service might just click. Specifically for the people working in restaurants, many might not be aware of exactly how many full-time, stable, and well-paying jobs there are at their disposal because of the stereotype of food services jobs just being “jumping off points” for other jobs.
The truth of the matter is, especially in food service, there’s a wide array of potential jobs for those who want to make it a life-long career:
- Line Cook
- Sous chef
- … and so on!
Better yet, getting involved in these careers doesn’t always require a specialized culinary education to be successful, either. In fact, “When searching for kitchen staff, only 30% of operators say they prefer someone from culinary school, while 95% indicate that BoH (Back of House) experience does impact their decision.” So, while a formal culinary education might not necessarily hurt your chances of working in a kitchen, actual experience is going to outweigh anything you read about in books.
Turning Restaurants Into Career Paths
While many restaurants may accept they are the “stepping stone” employment, especially those located in college towns or other cities where people come and go like the wind, there are just as many more that are eager to hire on a service staff that sticks around for the long-term.
But how exactly can restaurants owners set themselves apart, and attract this kind of tight-knit, through thick-and-thin crew? Apart from offering high wages and health benefits where you can, other incentives include:
- Praise your staff, even for the little things! Anyone who has ever worked in the restaurant industry, at any career level, knows it’s an incredibly fast-paced and generally stressful place to spend your days. But with a little positivity and praise coming from other members of the team, the stress feels a little less burdensome.
- Cross-train your staff to not only increase their overall experience, but to help ease the burden when someone has to take an unexpected sick day. If everyone can do everyone else’s job (with some exceptions, of course), not only will it lessen the overall stress of having to be fully staffed at all time, it can improve camaraderie. Better yet, by cross-training those interested, you’re also improving the skills that will allow them to move up the BoH ladder in the long-term.
- Run contests and incentives behind the scenes to get people involved in restaurant promotions, providing the best customers service, selling a new item off the menu, etc. Not only does it encourage people to better familiarize themselves with the menu and the clientele visiting, but a little healthy competition can improve communication and overall mood in the workplace.
Benefits of a Dynamic, Diverse Workforce
As the 21st century rages on, our world is more diverse than ever, especially in the food service industry. That diversity spans every facet of our lives, from family-life experiences to the classroom and our workplaces. As such, humanity should work to embrace our inherent differences, and identify how all occupations are important in their own ways.
The service industry is unique in that its workers often have varying degree levels, which creates much-needed diversity. Workplace diversity is invaluable in modern society and has myriad benefits for workers and employers alike. Benefits of workplace diversity include enhanced productivity, increased innovation, and a more dynamic and inclusive company culture.
To reap the full benefits of a diverse workforce, it’s time to drop the stigma that surrounds blue-collar, trade, and service work.
A college degree isn’t indicative of one’s life experiences — nor their work ethic, intelligence, or even income bracket. The pursuit of higher education is a noble endeavor, but it’s not for everyone. Further, while some occupations are arguably of fundamental importance, such as doctors, service work is no less vital to society than office-based and traditional white-collar jobs. Every worker who earns an honest living deserves respect, no matter if they’re a bartender who never graduated high school or an aspiring poet with a master’s degree who makes ends meet as a server.