Can 14 and 15-year-olds solve the labor shortage?

Photo: Reddit/hotlunchpam
Sep 02, 2021

At a McDonald’s in Medford, OR, a ginormous banner, “Now Hiring 14 and 15-year-olds,” has drawn nationwide media attention and a healthy amount of applicants amid the country’s labor crisis.

Raising the location’s minimum pay to $15 still left a shortfall in scheduling, but the sign brought in 25 applications within two weeks.

“There are always staffing issues, but this is unheard of,” Heather Coleman, the McDonald’s proprietor, told Business Insider. “[14-year-old and 15-year-old workers] have been a blessing in disguise. They have the drive and work ethic. They get the technology. They catch on really quickly.”

The move comes as fast food chains have been closing dining rooms and shortening hours due to staff challenges that are also being felt by retailers.

An article from Raleigh’s WRAL from January of this year listed Chick-fil-A, Dairy Queen, McDonald’s, AMC Theaters and Kroger among those sometimes hiring 14 to 15-year-olds, although they may limit their roles. Kroger, for instance, hires 14 to 15-year-olds as baggers, shelf-stockers and prep-pickup order takers.

A person must be 14 at minimum to work in nonagricultural jobs, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. However, many businesses have a minimum hiring age of 16 or higher to avoid the hassles of complying with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) as well as local child labor laws.

Many state laws follow FLSA guidelines that hold 14 and 15-year olds can’t work during school hours, are limited to three-hour shifts on school days and can’t work more than eight hours on non-school days.

The labor deficit has been blamed on subpar wages, COVID fears, childcare uncertainty and the extra $300 weekly unemployment benefits that expire in September.

Hiring young teens would require changes for many chains. Walmart, Target, Best Buy, CVS, TJX and Home Depot welcome hires at the age of 16, Kohl’s at 17, and Macy’s, Costco and Urban Outfitters at 18.

Food establishments and retailers could face accusations of child abuse with younger hires. A popular Reddit post on the Medford McDonald’s hires was entitled, ”Because if adults won’t work for you, take advantage of some great child labor.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Are you in favor of fast food chains or retailers hiring 14 to 15-year-olds to mitigate labor shortages? What restrictions or steps might be necessary to reduce any inherent risks to lowering hiring ages?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"One caveat to all of this is, they must be TRAINED. "

Join the Discussion!

22 Comments on "Can 14 and 15-year-olds solve the labor shortage?"

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Mark Ryski

I think this is a terrific idea. Retailers and fast food chains are desperate for workers, and 14- and 15-year-olds could help alleviate some of this pressure. Of course, younger employees should be required to have parental consent, but why not work? Working at a young age teaches lots of important life skills and there’s no reason why these kids can’t do productive work, earn some money and life skills.

Nikki Baird

I know several kids who would’ve been more than happy to work at 14 and 15 but could find no one willing to hire (or train) them. I think the workforce management solutions of today can do a lot more to help prevent the potential for abuse or illegal scheduling of younger workers than the manual scheduling practices of the past.

One caveat to all of this is, they must be TRAINED. Retail has for too long relied on either demanding already-experienced workers (and how are they supposed to get experience if they don’t already have it somehow?), or throwing untrained people into the deep end to see if they can learn on their own how to swim. I think companies will find that younger teens are very moldable and can be highly motivated. But they need to have the programs in place to do that.

Dave Bruno

Speaking from personal experience, and assuming we can provide legitimate oversight (a big assumption, I know), I think hiring younger teens into starter jobs at places like McDonald’s has lots of potential. I earned my first paycheck when I was 14, and that job taught me life lessons that have served me – and my career – well for the last 40+ years.

Ian Leslie

This won’t solve for during the school days, which is where there is still a ton of need. My son (15) worked a TON of hours this summer at Moe’s. He was so happy to make the money. But now that he’s back at school he’s not working and even if he were able to we’re talking about him maybe being able to work 12-15 hours a week, which isn’t going to help franchises all that much.

Neil Saunders

As long as they comply with relevant laws, give them appropriate jobs, pay prevailing wages, get the permission of parents, treat young people fairly, ensure health and safety is abided by, and the work doesn’t interfere with school, I don’t see a major issue with this per se. Calling it “child abuse” is not helpful and is an insult to the true meaning of that phrase. All that said, I am not sure this represents a long term solution to the labor crisis and firms must also use other tools – automation, improving pay and conditions, etc. – to help resolve the labor crunch.

Bob Phibbs

They used Happy Meals to get kids hooked on eating there, why not teenage jobs to get them to work there? Smart all around. This is the most entrepreneurial generation going and if they have the work ethic, learn quickly, and enjoy it, sounds like a home run. When you get to more staid retailers like department stores and luxury boutiques it would spook shoppers I think but for many, and in the positions outlined in the article, again it is a winning idea.

Bob Amster

Under proper supervision to prevent labor abuses, this can be a win-win. Some youngsters may need this money, many other youngsters may be kept off street corners, and others may learn some of the realities of working life a little earlier in life. (My first paying job was at the age of 12.)

Dave Wendland

Although I agree that developing a strong work ethic and learning how to be part of a team is important, there are two sides of this coin:

On the one hand, I’m concerned that we are encouraging these children to usurp other skills essential to their growth (camaraderie, social skills, and exposure to other areas of interest). They have a lifetime to work — and unless we set realistic limits on their time and manage expectations properly, they could burn out early.

However, properly trained, supervised, and encouraged, this is a wonderful path for teens. I’ve often said that ages 14-15 often form the foundation for adulthood. Working can instill skills such as respect of authority, accountability, and confidence. This makes it a very good thing.

Shep Hyken

What a great opportunity for younger people to get some incredible work and life experience. I’m 100 percent for hiring 14 to 15-year-olds, as long as they are treated and compensated appropriately.

Liz Adamson

As long as child labor laws are followed, training is provided and a fair wage is paid I think it’s a fantastic idea. My high school job taught me responsibility, work ethic, and allowed me to save money for college reducing my reliance on student loans. I think kids should have the opportunity to learn to work and earn money, as long as there is no impact to their schooling and parents are supportive.

Mohamed Amer, PhD

Remember the days when as a young teen, you had a paper route? Earning money at a young age helped me to understand life and business better. The lessons learned on those paper routes have been with me ever since. No, hiring 14 and 15-year-olds will not solve the labor shortages but will make a dent with the potential to provide life-long lessons to our youth.

Kathleen Fischer

This makes sense and can be a good opportunity for younger teens to earn money and demonstrate work ethic, with training and additional oversight by management to help alleviate some of the risks. Obviously, there are restrictions that may make it more complicated, such as limited hours and lack of driver’s licenses, but in the long-term, younger teens may be available to work for more years before they head off to college or other opportunities.

David Leibowitz

I don’t understand how this is “news” or a new topic for debate. Teenagers aren’t some new untapped market.

I got my working permit (as required in my state) to begin part-time employment after school and on weekends at age 14 eons ago for a national theater chain.

Casey Craig

I grew up in a one parent family with my father and started working for his moving company during summers and weekends at the age of 14. It instilled a work ethic and taught me how to manage money at an early age, which I believe has benefited me to this day. I believe most states require a work permit to start that young and parents should be mindful of potential impacts on other aspects of life. Work on 14 to 15 year olds!

Ken Lonyai

Great solution (with parental permission). Lots of family-owned bodegas and other businesses start kids working in some capacity sometimes as young as age five. Given that these jobs are mostly transient, it gives younger teens a chance to get some working chops and income and fulfills a need at McDonald’s. Win, win!

Jeff Sward

I think this holds more upside for the 14 and 15-year-olds than it does in terms of solving the overall labor shortage. Understanding a solid work ethic is no small thing. I am reminded of my first job at the age of 12. Golf caddy. I wasn’t much bigger than some of the bags I carried. But at $3.50 a round, plus a free hot dog at the 14th tee, I was rich by the end of summer. And I knew what it meant to buckle down and earn a buck. My next job at McDonald’s at age 16 was a walk in the park.

Joel Rubinson

I have mixed thoughts on this. If they can tolerate being cashiers, OK. Do I want a 14 or 15-year-old in a hot fry kitchen or lifting heavy boxes at Home Depot? I’m not so sure about that. Also, when you are talking about food, we have to remember that young teens can be mischievous. Having said this, I have no question that their brains are developed enough to handle these tasks. I do a lot of reading and application of linear algebra and related concepts such as eigenvectors. I once found this great review piece on all the major concepts in linear algebra — such a great cheat sheet that I printed it out and saved it. Then I saw that the author was a 15-year-old who happened to have a passion for linear algebra! So intellectually, there are no issues.

Mel Kleiman

The very first question I train employers to ask, no matter what the job they are hiring for is, what was the very first thing you did to earn money, how old were you, and what did you learn? I have found out that most successful people did things around the age of 13 or 14 or even younger to begin to earn money. How many of you that are reading this did something to earn money before you were 16? I bet all of you. Just read the comments.

Maybe that is why you are a BrainTrust panelist or in a position to be reading this. Just remember, with hiring young workers comes extra responsibility.

Steve Montgomery

Like many others, I started working at 14. The process taught me a great deal about working with the public, taking responsibility, etc. The issues are as Nikki pointed out they must be trained and their duties should be those that do not using any equipment that could be possible dangerous.

Rich Kizer

Hiring 14 to 15 year olds will work well if, in the interview process, understandings of staff scheduling and hours worked are agreeable to the worker along with understanding the workers school commitments. A little friction on hours occurs when school activities pop-up. Flexibility of management will be necessary, as well as flexibility of current long-term workers to accept last minute calls to come in.

Craig Sundstrom

I’m not sure this should be treated as a homogenous group: i.e. people mature a lot during that period and while I could be talked into 15 year olds, I’m much less open to 14 year olds.

As for the general idea, I see it being quite controversial, so probably not worth the trouble for major companies; smaller entities that would stay out of the spotlight would be a better starting point.

Ricardo Belmar

Yes, there are many 14 and 15-year-olds eager to learn from formal work experience. Will this solve the labor shortage? Probably not, as I don’t expect there are enough even in this age group to satisfy current demand. As others have pointed out, retailers thinking about tapping this age group need to also consider their training programs. What works for a 20 or 30 yr old may not work for a 14 yr old! As a result, the investment needed to adapt training may be a factor that prevents some retailers from doing this, but not others. The other factors described, while involving some risk, can be mitigated with proper management and understanding of things like total hours eligible to work, etc.

"One caveat to all of this is, they must be TRAINED. "

Take Our Instant Poll

Should fast-food chains and retailers be more open hiring 14 to 15-year-olds?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...