In recent months, Canada’s foodservice industry has experienced a steady increase in labour shortages. Operators are also facing an increasing challenge of retaining and recruiting staff.

Studies conducted by Tourism HR Canada show that 240,000 tourism jobs will go unfilled in Canada due to labour shortfalls by 2035. The food and beverage industry alone could see more than 100,000 jobs go unfilled.

By 2020, millennials are projected to be 50% of the workforce and by 2025, this number is expected to reach 75%. It is a very significant segment of our society that is entering a workforce that is already challenged when it comes to labour supply.

Given that millennials will represent 70% of the workforce within the next 10 years, it is critically important to understand this cohort.


What is a Millennial?

Millennials are typically defined as individuals born between 1981 and 2000. In 2015, millennials between the ages of 15 and 34 years old represented 9.5 million people, becoming the largest percentage of Canada’s labour force: 37%. And these numbers are only going to increase.

They are a diverse part of the Canadian society and because they don’t quite fit into a single group defined by their age, region, or socioeconomic status, researchers from Environics Research define them instead by their social values here called “tribes.”

What is important to understand here, as an operator, is that it can be quite difficult to understand millennials because they are so different from one to another. But there is one thing that is common among this population: their social values.

Each tribe has different values. However, they do share some similarities such as: being respected, valued, and connected to communities; learning for others, having a meaningful career. These attributes are very important for this demographic and it needs to be integrated into the work environment.


How to understand and motivate this group of young workers to achieve shared success?

Start by listening to them to get an understanding of their social values.
Don’t be afraid to invest time and energy in mentoring them. Remember to give feedback as often as possible, both positive and constructive.
Keep an open dialogue with them and give them the opportunity to have genuine conversations with both yourself and your customers. Leveraging their knowledge and comfort with technology to expand your business digital communication platform is a wonderful way to connect with both your young workers and customers.
Encourage some experimentation and collaborate with millennials to come up with new ideas.
Support your team and try to invest in them so they can build a successful career.
Help them feel respected and valued in your organization.
Listen, act as a mentor, collaborate, support and encourage your millennials because they will ultimately help you build a successful business.

Understanding the Millennial Workforce

How can you recruit and retain millennial workforce in your organization?

  • Empathize

Start by researching and understand your audience.
In the case of millennials, a good question to start with is “what do they want out of their job?” Environics Research studies show that it is a good work-life balance that matters most for millennials, followed by financial security, wealth generation and flexibility on the job. Advanced research also shows that making an important contribution to society is of strong importance. Ensuring your company is respectful of the environment, social rights and being involved in the community are just some examples.  If millennials are aware of social attributes like those, it becomes extremely helpful to attract new customers and staff, as they want to be a part of a positive change campaign.

“Ninety-six percent of millennials define having a steady job as the primary marker of adulthood – far more than owning a home, getting married or having children, which were key markers for previous generations,” said Bruce Lawson, President of The Counselling Foundation of Canada. “This underscores the need for career development to ensure millennials have the skills, confidence and adaptability to navigate an ever-shifting economy.”

Joe Baker, dean of Centennial College – School of Hospitality Tourism and Culinary Arts – believes that this is something the foodservice industry can deliver on. “There is no shortage of jobs in our industry,” he said.

Having a steady employment that ultimately leads to careers is something that we can put together and it should be a priority.

  • Importance of feedback

The Millennial employee is interested in feedback on their performance. But traditional semi-annual reviews are too infrequent for millennials. They want to know that they’ve done a good job, and they want to know now.

Not only are the timing and frequency important, but so is the way in which feedback is framed and delivered. Whether positive or negative, feedback needs to be structured in a way that leaves no room for misunderstanding. Feedback needs to be clear and specific to be effective.

This is a new generation of workers entering the industry but some old management concepts still apply. Baker recommends reading The New One Minute Manager.

Becoming one-minute managers is really critical in terms of delivering on the stop feedback to the millennial group. That feedback doesn’t have to be positive, but can also be constructive, says Baker.

  • Ideate

Knowing how to retain young workers is far from common knowledge.
“The average millennial needs power and wifi to support 2.6 personal devices,” recalls Baker.
Never forget that millennials have the technology they need in their pocket.
The point here is that they already are comfortable with this technology, so try to come up with an idea to leverage their digital abilities, and keep them engaged. Meet them where they are at in terms of comfort with technology and see how you can leverage their technological prowess for your business while making them feel valued.

Understanding the Millennial Workforce

How to leverage your Millennial employee to build your business?

  • Prototype

Young customers, just like your young employees, are highly connected and they value their communications in the moment.

A recent Menu Magazine article, “The M word”, recommends thinking about phones at the restaurant table as free and instantaneous advertising. It is now time to work with your millennial team to create a strategy and make your restaurant concept come to life online too.

Baker shared his experience of handing over Centennial College’s  Local Cafe Instagram to their students: “With a bit of guidance and coaching, they really understood what’s important to our brand and took this platform to the next level, leveraging to its full potential.”

There is an opportunity to play around, understand that millennials have the technology in their pockets, the confidence, the awareness and the connections to make your business come to life on social media, as Baker highlights.

  • Mentoring

Another important part of understanding this demographic comes from realizing that millennials will work hard when you get serious about investing in their skills development. Young talent wants the opportunity to learn from

someone with expertise; they want that on-the-ground experience to happen today, not tomorrow – and certainly not in five years.

“Understand that they want to learn from you.”, Baker insists.

When we talk about training and skill development, it is not only about heavy costly tuitions, it is also about you sharing your experience with millennials and testing out some of the ideas you have shaped together to keep improving.

  • Be Transparent

Millennials are transparent in their need for instant feedback. They grew up in the digital age, leading lives that are far more public than any generation before. This has huge implications for the way they work and the tools they use. They communicate with a sense of openness.

Build a relationship with your young workers and work on genuine interactions and feedback.

But, you don’t have to only share the positive. “Share your challenges so they can help you and build this meaningful relationship with them,” recommends Baker.



Millennials are both your employees and your customers. Building a strong understanding of their needs and aspirations will ultimately help you build meaningful relationships to this growing segment of our communities.


Watch the full webinar recording for free here.