‘Help wanted sign at every business’: Utah restaurants struggle with worker shortage

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A ‘Help Wanted’ sign is posted beside Coronavirus safety guidelines in front of a restaurant in Los Angeles, California on May 28, 2021. – Following over a year of restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic, many jobs at restaurants, retail stores and bars remain unfilled, despite California’s high unemployment rate, causing some owners to fear they will not be able to fully reopen by the June 15th date California has given for a full reopening of the economy. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – There are 28,000 job seekers throughout the state that are receiving unemployment right now, according to Yvette Woodland with the Workforce Development Division at the Utah Department of Workforce Services, DWS.

And though the job market is chock full of positions ready to be filled, would-be employees don’t seem to be taking the bait, putting employers in a tight spot.

“The job market is hot. It’s really tight. We know that the employers are struggling to find employees, and we’re seeing that now because of a really strong recovery in Utah. Pre-pandemic, the market was also very friendly to a job seeker. There are jobs out there for job seekers, and there are job seekers out there looking for jobs,” Woodland states.

There are between 50,000 to 70,000 jobs available throughout the state currently, she tells ABC4.

And while Woodland says unemployment benefits may have been a reason why people weren’t going for jobs, she also says there are many receiving these benefits who are also actively seeking work.

“I think with all of the options out there, some of the things that might come into play is how we’re recovering from this pandemic and job seekers have to be willing to consider how things are opening up and the employers that need employees as part of their team to be part of what’s opening up,” she says.

Woodland says job seekers are able to target their job search right now – there are jobs available across a wide range of industries, as well as in-person and virtual jobs.

And resources for both job seekers and employers are available at the Department of Workforce Services. Woodland encourages both groups to reach out.

“We know there are many resources out there for the employers. DWS is one of them definitely, so employing or exercising various recruitment strategies are really important and we welcome any employer out there to connect with us, we would love to be part of their resources… we have local workforce development specialists that reach out to employers and that employers can reach out to. The easiest way to find them quickly is just to go to jobs.utah.gov/employers/localteams.”

There will also be a job fair taking place on June 3rd, she says.

Melva Sine with the Utah Restaurant Association says the restaurant industry is currently seeing a shortage of workers.

She says she believes federal unemployment benefits may have played a role in keeping people away from jobs but hopes to see more workers re-entering the workforce now that Utah is ending the federal benefits for those collecting unemployment in June.

“… the pandemic is coming to a close and the patriotic thing to do now is to enter the workforce and get back to fulltime employment,” she says.

As for the current hiring atmosphere, Sine says a recent study shows people have been setting up appointments for interviews and never showing up. She says the worker shortage has not necessarily been resulting in restaurant closures so much as cut hours.

“So a restaurant that usually stays open on the weekends until 11 o’clock is closing at 10 o’clock,” Sine explains. “If they opened at 10, they’re now opening at noon, so it has cut down hours, and there are some restaurants that have actually cut down the number of days that they’re open… If Monday and Tuesdays are your slow days and you’re having a labor issue, then what you’re doing is closing on those slow days…”

She says getting back to full capacity with staffing has been difficult since many restaurants could operate with less staff during the pandemic.

“If I open a new restaurant, I’m competing with others in the restaurant industry. Now you have everyone opening at the same time. You can’t walk out into the community and not see a help wanted sign at every business you go into,” she explains.

What advice does she have for those considering a job in the restaurant industry?

“We call ourselves the industry of opportunity because there’s no other industry where you rise in the ranks as fast as you do in the restaurant industry. You also are compensated – raises are given usually within the first to third month; you automatically receive a raise,” Sine states. “Restaurants are very keen now on benefits, flexible hours. There’s just a host of benefits in terms of working in the restaurant industry, so I would say this is an opportune time.”

She says the salary is anywhere from $14 to $16 an hour and with tips, most servers in Utah make about $23 an hour depending on their specific job.

“They make far more than the minimum wage, two to three times. And there are plenty of jobs available right now,” she says.

Sine says Utah patrons have been very supportive to restaurants throughout the pandemic with using curbside delivery and takeout services. They’ve also been great about coming back to restaurants as they’ve been opening up.

“We’re seeing an influx of people coming into the restaurants, and we’re just asking them to be patient with us as we get through this process because we are on the road to recovery. The restaurant industry is in no way recovered from the pandemic. We’re working towards that, but just like the pandemic didn’t happen overnight, recovery for restaurants isn’t going to happen overnight. It’s going to be a process.”

Restaurants are diligently working to hire people, train people, and manage all of the costs associated with getting back up and being able to be fully open, she says.

“What we would say to people is the restaurants and other businesses did our patriotic duty to keep everyone safe and to make sure that we reacted responsibly and now, we need these people to consider their patriotic duty of getting back into the workforce…,” Sine states. “There’s dignity in work, whatever line of work you do that you’re being independent and self-sufficient.”

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