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Taco Bell CEO says working at the company isn’t a ‘dead end’

Brian Niccol at NASDAQ MarketSite on June 10, 2015 in New York City. Robin Marchant/Getty Images

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There was a surge of optimism about the U.S. economy on Friday as the Labor Department released its latest employment report: The U.S. economy added 255,000 jobs in July. 

But what about young people? While the teen unemployment rate slightly improved, it’s still running at 15.6 percent during that prime summer working month for teens. Yet some employers with jobs suitable for young people report that many entry-level positions are going unfilled.

This summer, employers are holding a series of job fairs around the U.S. with the goal of having 100,000 more young people on the payroll by the year after next. One of those people trying to garner interest is Brian Niccol, the CEO of Taco Bell. 

Niccol sat down with Marketplace Morning Report host David Brancaccio to talk about the struggles young people face when looking for employment. 

On structural barriers keeping young people from jobs:

Unfortunately in some of these neighborhoods, you know, their world is literally just the areas that they can walk to. What they don’t realize is there are opportunities of employment that are just in the neighborhood next to them or maybe a short bus ride away. So there are barriers partly because the infrastructure around them is not supporting them to get that first job — whether it be just telling them where the jobs are available, how to go about getting to the job, what’s the right way to prepare. And I think it’s the responsibility of companies like Taco Bell to step in and help these young people get their first job.

On what young people can get out of working at Taco Bell:

It could end up being a career or it could end up being just that: your first job. I’ve seen a kid come in that has to work because his family needs the additional income, he’s now dropping out of high school. He comes in, gets that first job, we take the time to find out that hey, you know what, he really would still like to get his high school degree. We support him, he gets his high school degree. It changed that family’s entire outlook because we helped this individual on the income side, but we also built this individual another community to support him longer term. I think that gets lost in a lot of the discussion because, you know, it can get categorized as a dead-end job, it’s got no future. And I just think that is so far from the truth.

On why these entry-level jobs are useful, though not highly paid:

Yeah, look, your first job is, you know, you’re getting paid commensurate with the skills that you have, right. And the good news is as you build those skills, your salary builds and your responsibility builds. And I don’t know about you, David, but that’s how it worked for me. I started out as brand assistants and then assistant brand managers and I worked a shift. 

On whether older people are edging teenagers out of jobs: 

Look, I’m sure there is the case where, you know, you have an older person that potentially takes a job. But…we are hiring and a lot of the jobs that are available are these first jobs which are perfect for these youth. We have belittled the idea of a first job. And I think we need to actually flip it the other way, which is, if you go back a long time ago, I mean, there was huge value in getting an apprenticeship, getting that first foot in the door, because it opened opportunities in so many different directions. And I think we need to start encouraging people again, like, ‘Hey, this is how you get going.’


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