How second-chance hires一and other untapped workforce pools一could solve the employee crisis.

There are now 11.5 million open jobs in the U.S., but only 6 million unemployed workers ready to fill these open positions. This amounts to almost two job openings for each unemployed person looking for work.

With the unemployment rate hitting a 52-year low in April, our labor market is the tightest in recent history. 

We see the effects of this every day at Snagajob, where we help restaurants fill open hourly positions. Today’s job seekers simply have too many choices and are turning to other work sectors and opportunities.

Full-service restaurants, and the hospitality industry as a whole, can no longer expect old hiring practices to solve today’s post-pandemic staffing problems. It’s time to rethink how the industry recruits and retains employees. 

One key is to make restaurant careers more appealing to a much broader group of job seekers. 

How do you accomplish this? It begins by expanding your labor pool to consider people who need a fresh start, or their first job, or who haven’t been considered due to physical limitations that can now be solved by technology.

One important labor pool many restaurants may be overlooking is people who have made a mistake, but are now more than able to contribute to the workforce. Specifically, I’m talking about non-violent criminal offenders.

Consider second-chance hires

According to recent studies, in the U.S. there are over 1 million unemployed men between the ages of 24 and 35 who are classified as “non-violent criminal offenders.” And keep in mind, the number of women who are second-chance-worthy is lofty as well. 

This age group is one of the prime demographics for working. Yet these people are being skipped over, often without consideration. 

This is a shame, and a wasted opportunity for restaurants, as a majority of these job seekers make excellent employees. Why? First, understand that many of these convictions are simply youthful mistakes made by people who used poor judgment and learned their lesson early. Also, many of the convictions aren’t even crimes anymore, such as drug convictions in states where the drug has now been decriminalized. 

But most importantly, second-chance hires are simply good employees. In fact, the Second Chance Business Coalition notes that 85 percent of HR teams report that non-violent offenders perform the same as, or better than, employees without criminal records.

They’re also more determined to succeed. As Jeffrey Korzenik notes in his book Untapped Talent, “second-chance hires have ‘grit’ and ‘heart’ to rebuild their lives.” However, he also emphasizes, “It’s business, not charity … but isn’t it great when good business accomplishes so much?” 

Along the same lines, second-chance hires are equally known for their hardiness. An example is during the early stages of COVID-19 when many workers quit jobs to stay safe from infection. But as Jeffrey Brown, CEO of Brown’s Super Stores (and a proponent of second-chance hiring) explained, this wasn’t the case for a majority of previous offenders. “They’re accustomed to challenges that others are not, and they are prepared to manage through risk,” he said.

You’ll find that several additional untapped labor pools can be equally beneficial to full-service restaurants. 

READ MORE: Chef D. Brandon Walker’s groundbreaking hiring strategy

Consider teens 

A recent Snagajob survey found that 87 percent of teenagers are looking for work this summer. 

While working a summer job was once a rite of passage for teenagers, the trend began sloping downward in recent years一and fell dramatically during the pandemic. Now, however, after being cooped up for two years, these teens are eager to get out of the house and socialize while making money.

In fact, teens are now the largest group actively looking for jobs. And 70 percent of Generation Z (those up to 25 years old) are currently looking for part-time positions. 

Don’t let the opportunity to hire these valuable and underutilized workers pass you by.

READ MORE: Teenagers surge back into restaurant workforce

Consider the un-retired

According to Department of Labor statistics, an estimated 1.5 million retired people re-entered the workforce in the past year. 

With inflation rising and the stock market sinking, it’s anticipated that even more people will come out of retirement in the very near future. This can be a great opportunity for restaurant staffing. More seasoned workers are traditionally reliable and conscientious about the job they do, and they make excellent team members.

When searching, note that retired job seekers between the ages of 55 and 64 are the most likely to return to the workforce, as they’re not yet eligible for Medicare or full Social Security benefits.

Consider those with disabilities

DOL studies show that in 2021, only 20 percent of people with disabilities were employed. And among workers with disabilities, 30 percent work part-time (while only 16 percent of non-disabled workers are part-timers). This suggests that workers with disabilities are given fewer opportunities than others, as some businesses wrongly believe that workers with disabilities have high absenteeism, are unskilled and not as productive, cost more to train, and don’t fit in.

However, that’s not the case at all, as workers with disabilities are excellent employees who have exceptional perseverance and a strong willingness to work hard and perform well. 

Hiring workers with disabilities also creates an inclusive work environment that pays dividends for your company culture. For example, teams that supported workers with disabilities report a 90 percent increase in retention, which spotlights the positive impact of an inclusive work environment.

READ MORE: Why Pilo’s Street Tacos wants to be the largest employer of people with special abilities

A great summer for restaurants is coming

However, given the staffing challenges due to today’s unbalanced job market, it’s important to evolve your hiring playbook to seek out hourly workers who are ready, willing, and able to step into seasonal jobs immediately. This involves rethinking your strategy, and turning to pools of workers you might not have considered before the “great reshuffle.” 

Rather than waiting for the same category of workers to come knocking at the door, branch out to embrace second-chance hires, teens, retired, and workers with disabilities. 

You’ll not only fill open positions (and ultimately fill empty tables), but you’ll also give more people financial stability and in turn stimulate the economy. 

Mathieu Stevenson is the CEO of Snagajob, a marketplace for hourly jobs and work shifts. Partnering with 24 of the nation’s top 25 employers for hourly work, Snagajob connects more than 6 million job-seekers with well-matched and mutually beneficial employment opportunities every month. Prior to joining Snagajob, Stevenson was the chief marketing officer of wealth management consultancy Blucora and the chief strategy officer of Catalina, a digital shopper insights firm. To learn more, visit

Expert Takes, Feature, Labor & Employees