The Utah Restaurant Association is issuing cards to the parents of high school employees, encouraging them to contact the employer if the student is having scholastic problems.

The objective is to make education of young employees a priority, said association president Ron Morgan. The food service industry has traditionally hired many young people and given them their first chance at developing good work skills, he said.The "Education First" program will support students and encourage them to make education a priority, both at school and on the job.

"It's vital that we attract well-educated employees," Morgan said. "The food service industry has grown to become the largest private employer in Utah, and an increasing number of young employees are now seeing food service as a career, not just a job. It's not uncommon to have entry-level employees earning more than $6 an hour, or career-oriented managers earning in excess of $45,000 per year."

In Utah, about one in four food-service employees is 18 or younger.