(BPT) - As millions of high school students prepare to head back to the classroom in just a few weeks, many may reflect on their summer jobs serving tables, operating cash registers, tracking inventory and assisting customers.
To most, those summer jobs were solely for the purpose of having a little extra cash, or maybe to build a college resume. But students should consider the long-term knowledge gained in such a short span of time. These hourly positions often provide the building blocks for something bigger to come in the future: a career.
The restaurant industry hires hundreds of thousands of seasonal employees every summer, including high school students getting their first taste of the working world. One-half of all adults have worked in the restaurant industry at some point during their lives and one out of three adults got their first job experience in a restaurant, according to the National Restaurant Association.
But can summer jobs in restaurants lead to bigger and better things? Research shows that nine out of 10 salaried restaurant employees started in hourly positions, and 80 percent of restaurant owners began their industry careers as hourly workers. Nearly all restaurant employees say the industry is a good place to get a first job and learn basic working skills.
Even if you didn't have a summer job in a restaurant, it's still a hot spot for career opportunities. This year is the 14th consecutive year that the restaurant industry is posting stronger job growth than the overall economy, with employment now totaling more than 13 million. Eighty-eight percent of restaurant employees say restaurants often provide the opportunity to start at the bottom and move up to management.
And it's going to keep getting better. The National Restaurant Association projects that restaurant and foodservice outlets will add 1.3 million new positions over the next 10 years.
It's no wonder training for a career in this growing industry is on the rise. Nearly every state in the U.S. - 47 in total - now implements ProStart, a two-year program that brings the industry and the classroom together to give 95,000 high school students across 1,700 schools nationwide a platform to discover new interests and talents, while opening doors to fulfilling culinary and restaurant management careers. ProStart is just one of the programs offered by the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF), which is committed to ensuring it supports the development of a highly-trained and professional talent pool through scholarships and educational programs. Since 1997, the Foundation has granted $15 million in scholarships to students and educators, giving them a jumpstart on successful careers.
In addition to the ample employment opportunities the restaurant industry provides, its employee base is incredibly diverse, consisting of people from various backgrounds, speaking many languages and with different skill sets. Eighty-one percent of restaurant employees say the industry is a place where people of all backgrounds and experience can open their own business.
Millennials make up a large percentage of today's workforce and this group tends to gravitate toward organizations that do good for others. In fact, Jim Lewis, CEO of the National Society of High School Students, recently told Forbes that Millennials are responding to companies that focus on helping others and want the sense that they are giving back to the community.
And restaurants are certainly part of that trend. In fact, more than nine in 10 restaurants are involved in community service. For the past 15 years, the NRAEF, in partnership with American Express, has presented the annual Restaurant Neighbor Award to celebrate this outstanding charitable service performed by restaurant operators. It's companies like these that will continue to attract Millennials as they seek out career opportunities with socially responsible companies.
As summer comes to a close and students return to school, they can feel confident in saying they not only spent their summer making some extra spending money in a restaurant, but also had the opportunity to build a foundation for a bright, fulfilling career.