With little fanfare, the National Restaurant Association is putting into a place a five-year strategic plan aimed at improving not only how the organization does business but the restaurant industry as a whole.
The plan, which the NRA approved last fall, includes four imperatives for the industry: These key components include: jobs and careers; food and healthy living; sustainability and social responsibility; and profitability and entrepreneurship. Included with each imperative is a short list of goals intended to help the association address the issues that the industry faces.
While the four imperatives are new, the issues they cover are not, said Dawn Sweeney, the association's president and CEO. Grouping the issues into main topics will help the organization better address them.
"We need to frame them up in a way to connect to something larger," she said.
For example, labor issues, including the union card check bill and paid leave mandates, are part of the broader platform of jobs and careers. That way, the association can address the issue with legislators and other organizations "on a broader platform rather than a single issue" and strengthen the focus, Sweeney said.
The association also is approaching this plan differently than previous ones. For the first time, it is hiring directors to oversee each of the imperatives. To ensure the strategic plan is fully implemented, the NRA has reorganized its governance to include accountability measures.
"The difference is now we're linking a performance management system to these goals," Sweeney said.
Jot Condie, president and CEO of the California Restaurant Association, said aligning the industry's issues into four categories will make enhance communication and efforts between the state associations and the NRA.
"Every issue in our industry is going to fall into one of those buckets," he said. "As simple as it may seem re-categorizing issues and creating titles over those buckets, it's absolutely critical in order for us to align ourselves with those issue areas."
Condie said the CRA is supportive of the NRA's strategic plan and its imperatives but has not yet approved the new category titles. Like other state associations, the CRA is working with an NRA oversight committee to realign its mission to match the NRA's new plan.
Focus on jobs, careers
As the NRA works to strengthen the industry and fix its ills, the association is making the Jobs and Careers imperative its No. 1 priority. The industry needs to focus on attracting entry-level employees and encouraging them to develop a career in foodservice, Sweeney said.
"The demographic from which we draw much of our employees is rapidly decreasing," she said.
The NRA's projections for the 16-to-24-year-old labor force, based on historical data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, depict a grim future. While restaurant industry employment needs will increase 14 percent over the next 10 years, the core labor pool will shrink 7 percent. Even worse, fewer teens and young adults see the restaurant industry as an attractive career.
"We need to identify what's preventing (that demographic) from taking on this career, what management practices need to be put into place to attract employees to climb the job ladder, and to figure out the issues that matter," she said.
According to the NRA's strategic plan, the goals for the jobs and careers imperative include:
- Increase labor supply and tenure
- Improve management practices related to specific employee satisfaction drivers
- Improve public perceptions of the restaurant industry relating to jobs and careers
Heading off the crisis
Kacy Oden, director of membership relations at People Report, a research and consulting firm specializing in restaurant labor-force trends, believes the NRA is on the right track by making jobs a priority imperative.
"Right now, we're approaching a demographic train wreck, if you will," Oden said.
People Report also has been concerned about the declining labor pool, a crisis that has been staved off by an influx of foreign workers as well as lower turnover rates thanks to the recession. "But the problem with all this is when all this turns around, especially for this industry, it's going to be a huge issue," Oden said.
With fewer teens and young adults having an interest in jobs, much less careers, in the restaurant industry, Oden agrees with the NRA that more msut be done to shore up the situation.
"They're just not interested in working in our particular industry, but that's who we like to hire," Oden said.
Oden said the restaurant industry needs to take lessons from the health care and education fields, which have done a good job of recruiting young adults onto their career paths. Those industries at one time faced a similar labor crisis, which was averted because they devoted efforts to marketing and telling the story of their career opportunities.
"There's a lot the NRA can do," she said. "I hate to use the word glamorizing, but they have to make it where people know that there is an (advancement) plan."
Unfortunately for the industry, not enough companies focus on their advancement plan, Oden said. The challenge for operators in communicating the message will be "glamorizing what they do. McDonald's has done a very good job with that, letting people know there's more to it than just being cashier, taking pride in what you do and how you do it, regardless of who you work for."
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Sweeney said the industry does need to do its part, from using screening tools to hire employees who will be successful in the industry to creating ladders of career advancement. Each segment and brand will have its own approach, but the association is developing an industry-wide directive to keep those entry-level employees and future managers or owners from jumping to other industries.
"If there's a critical path, everybody needs to be on it," she said.
Condie said that by classifying all labor and career needs issues into one imperative, the NRA and the state associations will be able to better organize how they address the issue, whether from a public affairs or political lobbying approach.
"Demonstrating to the public that this is a growing industry, it's a thriving industry and it's a great opportunity for rewarding careers is absolutely is a key component in what we do for the industry," he said.
* PizzaMarketplace.com will continue its series on the NRA's strategic plan in subsequent stories.
Christa is editor of QSRweb.com and contributes to FastCasual.com and PizzaMarketplace.com. She has experience in the restaurant industry as well as 15 years as a journalist.