Burgerville hires teenager laid off by Jack in the Box

Vancouver chain still reviewing applications of other laid-off teens




Some of the teens who lost their Battle Ground Jack in the Box jobs last month because they were younger than 18 may soon head to work at another fast food chain — Burgerville.

The Vancouver-based company has already hired 17-year-old Cory Gonzalez, and is reviewing the applications of most of his seven former colleagues.

Portland-based franchisee Northwest Group Inc. laid off the teens soon after acquiring the Jack in the Box location, citing concerns about employing underage workers. There is no legal protection against age discrimination for workers younger than 40, and strict rules govern workers younger than 18, said Elaine Fischer, spokeswoman for the state Department of Labor & Industries.

When Burgerville Chief Financial Officer Kyle Dean heard that Jack in the Box had laid off the young workers, Dean saw opportunity.

“I was struck by the quality of this kid” after reading Gonzalez’s story in The Columbian,” Dean said. “He was pretty aligned with the kind of kids we are trying to hire.”

Burgerville is in the process of beefing up staff to prepare for the 39-restaurant chain’s busier summer season. So the chain started reaching out. It has contacted most of the laid-off Jack in the Box workers, said Beth Brewer, Burgerville’s vice president of talent development and education.

Gonzalez, who was laid off on March 7 and hired by Burgerville on March 23, considers himself fortunate to have landed a new job after two weeks of searching.

“It’s hard. A lot of people aren’t hiring or they’re just not hiring minors,” Gonzalez said.

Burgerville hires employees of all ages, starting at about age 16, Brewer said. Rather than focus on age, the company looks for workers who are well-rounded and engaged in the community.

The practice has fostered longevity, said Dean, who added that Burgerville often promotes from within.

“Our COO (chief operating officer) Janice Williams started out working the counter,” Dean said.

Tom Mears, the company’s board chairman, got his start driving an ice cream truck for Burgerville, which will celebrate its 50th year in business this fall.

“You’re always looking for your next best hire,” Dean said.

“It’s a relief to have a new job,” said Gonzalez, a student in Clark College’s Running Start program. Gonzalez is now in training for his new job serving drive-through patrons of the Burgerville restaurant at 162nd Avenue and Fourth Plain Boulevard.

National trends show that teenagers are increasingly choosing not to have jobs, according to figures from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 1981, the national labor force participation rate for teenagers ages 16 to 19 was 55.4 percent. In 2009, the rate was 37.5 percent, a steady drop that has puzzled labor analysts.

The trend could be fueled by baby boomers who have either stayed at their jobs longer, or taken the lower-skills jobs for various reasons that include the plunge in stock prices following the financial crisis and the recession.

Those jobs ordinarily go to younger workers, according to the online publication Fortune.com, which recently reported that job prospects have been declining for 16- to 19-year-olds since 2000, while employment among 60- to 64-year-old adults has consistently risen.