Not many years ago, when a foodservice director like Cyndi Roberts advertised a job, she could expect dozens of applications. Roberts has been in the industry for 32 years, the past 16 as manager of food services and clinical nutrition at St. Joseph Memorial Hospital in the southern Illinois town of Murphysboro. She had a position open for two months this year and received only five applications—two of them for part time.
Roberts’ experience is echoed by directors across the noncommercial industry who are struggling to find quality applicants to fill available jobs. So where are the workers who used to be in this side of the sector, and why did they choose different industries or roles instead? Flexibility, money and prestige seem to be factors in the jobs FSDs report their would-be workers are gravitating toward.
In northeastern Mississippi, Eva Hampton has trouble attracting millennials to the Shearer-Richardson Memorial Nursing Home in Okolona. Hampton’s care facility may be a gentler workplace, one where compassion toward both residents and employees is valued. But she finds younger workers are eager to maximize their pay, even if that means enduring a work environment that is comparatively harsher.
Those who might be drawn to foodservice are shifting toward area QSRs and fast-food chains such as Hardee’s, where pay starts slightly higher than Hampton can offer. “It’s just $1 more, but it makes a difference,” she says.
Workers not attached to foodservice, meanwhile, are often drawn to local factories that offer good benefits and what seems like serious money, Hampton says. “Here in the South, when you start out with $14 an hour, you think you’re making major bucks versus $7.50,” she says.
Back in Illinois, Roberts notices younger workers with certain skills moving into information technology jobs that are perceived as higher status. Any foodservice job beyond the chef’s role is seen as less glamorous, she says (although buying chef’s jackets for her staff uniforms has helped). Meanwhile, other millennials, such as the college students at Southern Illinois University, are choosing bars, restaurants and retail openings.
Roberts believes the desire for more flexible schedules is also driving millennials toward multilevel marketing companies in which they make sales to friends and acquaintances. She herself isn’t immune, either. “If they’re motivated, they can do well with that,” she says. Then she adds: “I am—I’m doing that on the side.”