Lisa Katz| Crain’s Detroit Blog

According to Mr. White in the Quentin Tarantino classic, Reservoir Dogs, Mr. Pink should have tipped the diner waitress. He states matter of factly, “Waitressing is the No. 1 occupation for female noncollege graduates in the country. It’s the one job basically any woman can get, and make a living on. The reason is because of their tips.”

Although the gender split is actually quite even in retail and hospitality occupations, Mr. White’s statement is not far from the truth, but it is not quite the full truth either. What is it like to spend a career in retail and hospitality? What opportunities do occupations in this industry hold? And how does the success of this industry affect our economy?

The retail trade sector represents both store (fixed point-of-sale locations) and nonstore (Internet sales, door-to-door solicitations, infomercials) sales of goods and services from individuals or businesses to the end-user. Retailing is typically the final distribution of merchandise. The hospitality industry most often is associated with lodging establishments but also encompasses the operations and management of restaurants and other food services, attractions, recreation events, travel-related services, and even some personal care services. Altogether, the occupations required for operation in all of these places make up the retail and hospitality (R&H) industry.

Yet, R&H jobs often get a bad rap. It is an industry often cited for relatively low-pay, lack of consistent hours and physically demanding work (e.g., those on their feet for hours at a time). Points often raised against careers in retail and hospitality are relatively low wages and lack of consistent scheduling, which has severe implications for hourly workers.

Although some of this criticism may be fair, particularly at the entry level, management positions often offer much more stable schedules and benefits (including paid time off).  [Note:  According to the National Restaurant Association, the average weekly hours worked by a typical employee are dictated by business cycles, because employers would rather increase the hours of existing employees before they make the decision to add jobs.] Also, some R&H employees are in the industry because of the flexibility it allows them.

In addition, R&H jobs are a great introduction and on-ramp to the world of work. To Mr. White’s point, entry-level occupations in R&H require little or no formal training, making them appropriate for people of all ages and skill levels. For lower or entry-level-skilled workers, R&H positions allow for development of critical foundations, like math, reading, problem solving and sale techniques. These skills are transferable to any number of positions that require customer service, for example, banking and finance and health care.

With additional experience and a small amount of on-the-job (or post-secondary) training, one stands to almost double entry-level wages and advance to management.

Luckily for metro Detroiters considering entering or already in the field, the retail and hospitality industry is growing at a much higher rate than the national average, which could mean plenty of hours to be worked:

While national growth in the industry has remained somewhat steady, the market in metro Detroit and the surrounding areas has fluctuated. The recession did affect R&H employment, which dropped by almost 13,000 employees from 2009 to 2010, but the industry is making a strong comeback, surpassing pre-recession employment numbers and representing a larger share of employment than in 2009.

In Wayne County alone, since the beginning of 2014, there have been postings for more than 1,000 sales representatives and more than 800 retail sales positions. Supervisors of retail salespeople are next on the list with 600+ postings, which means that those already in retail sales have opportunities to move to supervisory roles with better pay and more consistent scheduling.

Turnover is a constant concern in the R&H industry, but companies are paying attention. A survey performed by the Hay Group of 54 major national retailers found that turnover concerns are fueling company strategies for increased retention. When asked about key tactics for reducing turnover, most retailers are looking to strategies like career pathway development (61 percent) and training (54 percent) to keep employees on board. Only 30 percent cited changes to compensation plans.  The approach may make sense: In positions with higher turnover, the most frequently cited reason is better opportunity elsewhere (74 percent), not necessarily higher salary (44 percent).

The fact that companies are trending toward investing more in their employees, even at an entry level, is great news for many unemployed and under-employed workers. This strategy, coupled with continued growth in the region, could mean many long-term career opportunities for those just starting out in the R&H industry.

Retail and hospitality jobs are crucial to the recovery of our economy, and our intersections with local retail and hospitality businesses can be crucial to their success, further fueling growth. So go out and support your favorite haunts, and, in turn, support the workers in those jobs.  This may mean taking a cue from Mr. White: Remember to tip your server.

This blog post was researched and developed with support from Sarah Sebaly, Project Manager – Strategic Pathways, for the Workforce Intelligence Network.

Share On