With hospitality jobs hard to fill, some restaurants add tuition assistance incentive – WRAL.com

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Published: 2021-10-22 17:13:00
Updated: 2021-10-22 19:36:34
Posted October 22, 2021 5:13 p.m. EDT
Updated October 22, 2021 7:36 p.m. EDT
By Matt Talhelm, WRAL reporter
— Part-time jobs like waiting tables or working as a cashier used to help people save for college. Now, a growing number of businesses are chipping in for college to help attract more workers.
North Carolina’s hospitality industry has added 39,700 jobs in the past year, more than any other economic sector, according to a report released Friday. But there still are some 40,000 vacancies, and many restaurants have had to cut back hours or limit service as they struggle to fill positions.
“Staffing has been a struggle for everybody, but more and more, I think we’re seeing more people that want to come out and work,” said Samantha Branch, manager of a Texas Roadhouse restaurant in Durham.
Branch’s restaurant is looking to hire 15 to 30 people right now, and Texas Roadhouse has increased its incentives to help attract workers. Employees who’ve been with the restaurant for a year and work 30 hours a week are now eligible for college tuition reimbursement up to $5,250 a year.
“We do have a lot of colleges around us, so it’s just helping bring in staff when you have that extra incentive for them to come here and work,” she said. “Why not take advantage of it?”

Sheetz recently announced it’s increasing its college tuition reimbursement from $1,500 to $5,250 a year – the maximum an employer can pay, tax-free, to workers. Chick-fil-A, Chili’s, Chipotle, KFC. McDonald’s, Papa John’s Pizza Hut, Starbucks and Taco Bell also now offer tuition assistance.
“Ours is an industry of opportunity,” North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association President Lynn Minges said. “Even though people sometimes start in entry-level jobs, they have the opportunity to progress very quickly through the ranks.”
In addition to offering tuition assistance, Minges said, some businesses are raising wages and offering paid sick leave, 401(k) retirement plans and child care to help fill their open positions.
Extending initiatives like college tuition and training opportunities are invaluable to individuals who are interested in career opportunities in the hospitality industry,” she said.
Imani McGregor balances classes at North Carolina Central University with her job as a server at Texas Roadhouse. The tuition reimbursement she can get would be a big help, she said.
“It can take a lot of weight off our shoulders, especially with trying to work to put ourselves through school,” McGregor said.
Branch said no strings are attached to the tuition reimbursement, meaning employees don’t have to stay with the company beyond a year or pay back the money.
But McGregor said she plans on sticking around as she continues her education in graduate school.
“This is why we come to work. This is why we need jobs, because we’re trying to support ourselves to get benefits like that,” she said.
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