What Starbucks Could Do For Youth Employment
Starbucks CEO Howard Schulz headlined a 17-firm event that promised more jobs for young people over the coming years. The employment numbers are mainly for PR purposes, so I won’t bother with them. The bigger problem, though, is that working as a barista or an order taker at Taco Bell (another participant) normally doesn’t lead to any next step. Career ladders that used to reach from entry level positions to middle class careers hardly exist in America any more. If getting the first job is a problem (which it is for millions), getting the second isn’t much easier.
If a company like Starbucks really wanted to make a dent in the problem and demonstrate how the bottom end of the labor market can be lifted up, here’s something they could do:
Create an internship program. Same workers, same responsibilities, same pay (or a little more), but a new wrinkle: provide a learning component to the work performed by young workers willing to enroll in an expanded program. These workers could meet one day a week at a separate location, where they would study how the company organizes the work flow, manages employees, and deals with its customers. This could be combined with more theoretical considerations—theories of process management, motivation, inventory management, quality control, marketing and so on—but in the context of their current work. At the end, after a half year or so, they could receive a certificate documenting their accomplishments. One could also envision a second level: once workers had familiarized themselves with the ins and outs of the operations, they could take on a project, like solving a nagging problem or envisioning a different work structure or strategy.
Clearly a program like this would benefit from academic partners, perhaps local community colleges or even universities. Models for extended education for managers, where companies pay for their employees to take evening or weekend workshops at nearby campuses, are widespread; the proposal I’m making would ask Starbucks and other companies to pay for similar opportunities for their frontline workers.
The goal is to make an entry-level job a true starting point for workers who want to escape minimum wage work. In a better world the government would take the lead, and unions would also play a key role. As far as the US is concerned, that’s obviously a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. But if Starbucks or other companies want to help workers gain a toehold on a better life in spite of the minimal learning and advancement opportunities built into their entry-level jobs, this would be a step in the right direction.