Labor shortage worsens: Where are all the workers?

Businesses struggle to fill open positions
Virus Outbreak California Jobs
Posted at 11:18 AM, Apr 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-20 16:11:54-04

CINCINNATI — It's "help wanted" -- everywhere.

As the economy rebounds, businesses from restaurants to theme parks are finding it hard to find people to work right now.

Meggan Jones, who recently found a medical job after seven months out of work, said she was stunned by how many open positions she found job hunting this spring.

"There are tons of opportunities there, and you don't know what might happen," the Adams County, Ohio woman said.

Raising wages, adding bonuses

Businesses have so many openings that many are now boosting pay, as minimum wage will no longer cut it, even for entry level work.

Kings Island has just announced it is raising wages $1 to $2 an hour, as it struggles to find 4,000 seasonal teenage employees this summer.

Hardest hit, though, is the restaurant business.

Restaurant owner Jose Salazar is struggling to find chefs and servers for his three restaurants in Downtown Cincinnati.

"Everyone in our industry is hiring right now," he said, "And it's actually hard to find people to work."

He had to let many of his workers go last April during the pandemic shutdown, and many of them have moved on to find other jobs.

Randy Reichelderfer, co-owner of Newtown's Urban Grill on Main, is facing the same fight.

"It's frustrating," he said. "You can't get people to show up. You can't hire people."

To find and keep good employees, restaurants have to offer more and more perks these days.

Chipotle says it has one of the best retention rates in the business because ofits college tuition reimbursement program for many of its workers.

Why restaurants can't get help

The Ohio Restaurant Association blames three things for this worsening labor shortage:

  • Many people are still afraid to work in a close restaurant environment, such as a hot kitchen.
  • Some workers have switched from cooking and serving to driving for DoorDash and Uber Eats, which gives them more flexibility and no close contact with other people.
  • Extended unemployment benefits often exceed pay for some jobs, and that will continue until September.

John Barker, president of the restaurant trade group in Columbus, told us "a lot of people are saying 'why would I need to go back to work when I have this federal and state support?'"

Barker said businesses, especially restaurants, will need to be more creative.

"Maybe they will have to give signing bonuses, and other perks that workers won't find somewhere else, until this shortage ends," he said.

Barker said restaurants may have to raise menu prices to compensate, but customers will hopefully understand.

The restaurant group hopes the worker pool expands this fall, as stimulus and unemployment benefits finally run out.

Until then, you'll find plenty of job openings.