Since Joe Deng opened LimeRed Teahouse in 2011, he’s never had a problem hiring employees – until this year.
Between Amherst, Northampton and Boston, Deng has three LimeRed locations in addition to Honeycrisp Chicken, a fried chicken restaurant in downtown Amherst.
“Back then, we had our choice for people,” Deng recalls. These days, he said, “we basically have staff shortages in all areas.”
This forced the restaurateur to make some tough decisions. LimeRed in Northampton is now closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, while Honeycrisp closes on Tuesdays. Deng also said that on two separate occasions in September he shut down his Northampton site on Wednesday, causing his staff to work at Amherst for the day just to keep it operational.
Deng also made the difficult choice to reduce the hours of operation of its businesses. “I already work seven days a week,” he said. “I can’t work harder.”
Deng is not alone. From catering to childcare, banking and property management, a long time with many other industries, businesses across the economy are looking to fill positions and avoid labor shortages. -work related to the pandemic.
“There are many jobs available across all sectors of the industry,” said Teri Anderson, executive director of the MassHire Franklin Hampshire Career Center. She cites the need for workers in the manufacturing and health and social services sectors in particular.
Anderson pointed out to JobQuest, which indicated that there were more than 250,000 jobs available in Massachusetts last week. Using preliminary data, the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that approximately 185,000 people were unemployed statewide in August, indicating a surplus of jobs despite the state’s 5% unemployment rate.
Labor experts say there are many factors contributing to this disconnection – a lack of skills, worries about returning to work due to the pandemic, child care services, transportation, and more.
Mark Melnik, director of economic and public policy research at the UMass Donahue Institute, said “the available workforce does not match the skills employers are looking for.”
Along with other factors such as pandemic concerns about returning to work, Melnik said this has caused the state’s workforce participation rate to drop by nearly a point. percentage of 66.6% in January 2020 compared to last August, according to the executive office of Massachusetts. labor and workforce development. He said declining labor supply “puts the economy on hold” and makes growth difficult.
Since the pandemic unemployment assistance ended on September 4, Anderson predicts that employers may now have a better chance of connecting with a larger pool of job seekers.
An example of this effort on the part of employers is the recent ‘Get Hired Career Fair’ held at Hampshire Mall in Hadley last week. The event brought together more than a dozen employers, including Greenfield Savings Bank, Amherst Innovative Living and JCPenney.
Despite this corporate congregation, Timothy Tero, a job seeker in his 50s, noted that relatively few people actually show up looking for work. Tero said he started looking for work more than a month ago, in anticipation of his pandemic unemployment assistance ending in early September.
“I don’t remember all the jobs I applied for,” he said, saying he struggled to match his skills to current openings. Before the COVID-19 hit, Tero worked at ePosterBoards, an electronic billboard and event management company.
“I think it’s a little harder than I thought,” he said of his job search. Tero has said he thinks the news media make it seem too easy to find a job compared to his own struggle.
He also noted that “some of us are competing with students” for part-time jobs in the Pioneer Valley.
Alivia Robinson, another career fair attendee, shared the sentiment. “I feel like there is always a good range of jobs, other than when the college kids are here,” she said.
Tina Vega, a recent University of West Florida graduate, stumbled across the event while racing at Hampshire Mall. She said it was a happy coincidence as she plans to look for a job later this fall.
Vega said she believed “there are so many jobs out there but not enough people willing to hang on.”
She explained that it seems that many people are now struggling to find a “quick job” instead of the “right job”. This, she said, hurts employers as it leads to increased turnover in vacancies.
Additionally, Vega suggested that childcare is an issue for people who want to return to the workforce but cannot afford it. She said her sister had a one-year-old child and that she “worked at the daycare specifically to bring her child to work”.
Clare Higgins, executive director of Community Action Pioneer Valley, said child care shortages are a major barrier for people trying to return to work. Recently, “daycares have closed and … staffing has been a challenge” as workers are “woefully underpaid,” she said.
“We’re at the bottom of the hill because we can’t hire teachers,” she said. She said simply raising wages would turn parents away due to the higher fees for the service. Child care “contributes to economic growth … but it cannot be paid for by the people who need it most,” she said.
Higgins said this would continue to be a problem “unless we view child care as a public good.”
She referred to a September report from the Treasury Department which detailed the current administration’s proposals to expand the provision of childcare services at the federal level. The proposals include a universal preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds, a federal requirement for paid time off, and encouraging employers to build on-site care facilities.
At the state level, Higgins mentioned the Common Start Coalition, an organization dedicated to making child care more affordable and accessible through legislation.
Transportation – or the lack of it – is another barrier that keeps some people in western Massachusetts from accepting work.
“We don’t have the population density to support advanced transit,” Higgins said.
Another barrier to getting a job is COVID-19 itself, according to Shandra Richardson, operations manager at Greenfield Savings Bank.
“I think the health aspect is a big part of it,” said Richardson, who was at the Hampshire Mall career fair.
She said the positions she has the most difficulty filling are those that require direct contact with clients. “Any role in the service industry struggles” when it comes to hiring employees in person, she said.
Deng echoed this sentiment, suggesting that fewer people are looking for restaurant work because of COVID-19. Deng said he knew other companies felt the same way, as he remembered recently having dinner at Five Guys and finding an invitation to apply with his meal.
Anderson said job fairs are “a good way to connect with employers,” but stressed that job seekers should also use online resources. She mentioned that MassHire hosts monthly online job fairs that allow employers to interact and interview potential employees. The next MassHire virtual fair will take place on Wednesday October 6.
Alex Laguerra Sierra, director of property management at Amherst Innovative Living, pointed to a silver lining in unemployment linked to the pandemic.
“COVID posed a challenge but exposed us to new talent,” she said. After being fired from dead-end jobs, she discovered that “people are exploring other avenues and changing careers” after the pandemic gave them such an opportunity.
In support of her claim, Sierra said many resumes she has recently received have come from former waiters, hostesses and hospitality workers looking for jobs that promise higher pay.
Melnik, of the Donahue Institute, said economists believed last May the job market would continue to “buzz,” but “there are now more question marks with how the (delta) variant came to be.” .
He suggested that the unpredictability of more variations down the line will hurt markets, because “one thing markets value is certainty.”
Deng said he was hiring at rates well above the minimum wage to entice the limited pool of applicants to work for him rather than for competitors. Without further help, Deng is stuck on reduced days and hours.
“I’m not sure there is a solution in sight,” he said.