scorecardMillennials and Gen Z are driving demand for experiences. It could be a great industry to stake your career on.
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Millennials and Gen Z are driving demand for experiences. It could be a great industry to stake your career on.

Noah Sheidlower   

Millennials and Gen Z are driving demand for experiences. It could be a great industry to stake your career on.
PolicyPolicy5 min read
  • The experience economy is expected to grow over the next decade, particularly among cooks.
  • Cooks at restaurants are expected to increase 20% between 2022 and 2032.

Millennials and Gen Z want to do things, not buy things.

Disney pulled in record revenue at its theme parks last year. International travel increased in 2023, driving up airfares. And Americans continue to eat out more, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

That's why it may be a great time to bet on the experience economy if you're looking to build a career over the next decade.

Between 2022 and 2032, the US economy is projected to add nearly 4.7 million jobs, bringing the total to around 169.1 million jobs.

Though not as robust as health care or professional and business services, leisure and hospitality is expected to see an increase of nearly 351,000 jobs during this ten-year period, bringing total employment up to 16.2 million jobs. The leisure and hospitality supersector includes the arts, entertainment, and recreation sector, as well as the accommodation and food services sector. As of September 2023, average hourly earnings for leisure and hospitality workers is $21.27.

Though all occupations overall are expected to increase by 2.8% between 2022 and 2032, many in leisure and hospitality may double or triple this rate.

These jobs are on the rise in part because younger Americans are turning increasingly more to experiences over tangible items. A recent survey by Eventbrite shows over 78% of millennials prefer experiences over products. Deloitte's 2023 summer travel survey further found that the experience economy endures even amid higher prices, with around 47% of Gen Z and 69% of Gen X taking at least one trip last summer.

Cooks at restaurants are expected to skyrocket

Looking at all occupations with the most job growth during this period, the number of cooks at restaurants is the third highest behind home health/personal care aids and software developers. Employment is expected to grow from 1.36 million in 2022 to 1.64 million in 2032, which represents an over 20% increase. This will represent about 1% of the total workforce in 2032.

Though the pandemic hit restaurants particularly hard, restaurant growth is still occurring, as the National Restaurant Association's Restaurant Performance Index is still above 100. The Association's 2023 State of the Restaurant Industry report further emphasizes growth will continue through the rest of the year despite high food costs, with competition heating up. The report projected 500,000 new food service jobs for 2023, bringing the total up to 15.5 million in total, and this is expected to grow by 150,000 jobs per year until 2030.

As many restaurants continue to innovate with new equipment and techniques, cooks will be particularly needed to drive this progression.

"As illustrated by our 2030 employment projections, we expect the restaurant workforce to continue growing in the years ahead, driven by consumers' rising demand for food away from home," Bruce Grindy, chief economist at the National Restaurant Association, told Insider. "The composition of the restaurant workforce in 2030 will likely not be the same as it is today, as technological developments may reduce the need for human labor in some foodservice functions.

As of May 2022, restaurant cooks make about $34,000 a year, or $16.40 an hour. Hawaii, Rhode Island, and Nevada have the largest concentration of restaurant cooks, while the Northeast and West Coast have the highest average salaries.

"Even as the industry evolves, hospitality will remain the industry's hallmark, and that requires people to deliver it," Grindy said. "A strong majority of operators agree that technology integration in restaurants will augment rather than replace human labor."

According to National Student Clearinghouse, enrollment in culinary programs increased 12.7% from 2021 to 2022 as enrollment in two- and four-year colleges continues to fall. Still, many workers are demanding better hours and higher paychecks, leading some to exit the industry entirely. Some restaurants have already been experimenting with four-day work weeks to maintain talent.

According to the BLS, cooks at restaurants typically need less than five years of work experience with no formal education credentials, as well as moderate-term on-the-job training. It's expected there will be about 22,000 openings for chefs and head cooks each year.

Across other cook categories, institution and cafeteria cooks are expected to increase slightly. Chefs and head cooks, as well as bakers, may rise by over 5%. However, the number of fast food cooks is projected to fall by over 101,000 by 2032 as fast food establishments continue to reduce staff or close locations. Still, the number of fast food and counter workers overall is projected to rise by 50,400.

Elsewhere in the sector, bartenders are expected to increase by over 21,000. Meanwhile, waiters will fall by nearly 69,000.

Entertainment workers also on the rise

A large number of roles in the arts, entertainment, and recreation sector are expected to see increases in employment over the next few years. As of September 2023, the sector currently employs nearly 2.5 million people, who on average earn $25.72 an hour.

Entertainment attendants — meaning those who assist operations at sports games, performing arts events, and amusement parks — on the whole are projected to increase by over 3%, driven mainly by an expected 4.2% uptick in amusement and recreation attendants up to 358,000. These attendants typically make around $28,350 a year, or $13.36 an hour.

A September report by 360 Research Reports suggests the United States will play an important role in global theme park and amusement park growth, which is anticipated to rise at a "considerable rate" between 2023 and 2030. This growth will be driven by growing demand for tickets, food and beverage, merchandise, and hotels and resorts amid an adoption of more advanced technology and growth of larger players.

Amid a shift toward entertainment and travel experiences, demand for concerts, sports games, and tours is rising. Costume attendants — or those who select, fit, and take care of costumes for entertainers — as well as locker room, coatroom, and dressing room attendants are also expected to increase between 5-7%. Attendants usually require a high school diploma or equivalent with short on-the-job training.

With more staff in attendant positions, there's also more demand for those overseeing larger projects and planning more creative entertainment strategies. Additionally, entertainment and recreation managers are anticipated to rise 8% between 2022 and 2032, while lodging managers are expected to increase by 6.7%. An average of around 3,100 openings for entertainment and recreation managers are projected for each year of the decade.

Entertainment and recreation managers, who "plan, direct, and coordinate activities and operations related to fitness and leisure," according to the BLS, made $67,220 on average as of May 2022. Some positions require a bachelor's degree, while others just require a high school diploma.

Other growing roles in the sector include actors, producers, and directors, projected to grow 6% overall over the decade. Tour guides may rise by as much as 8%, while recreation and fitness workers could grow nearly 10%.