Despite a record number of claims for Utahn unemployment benefits each week, some companies are struggling to find workers to fill the vacancies.
Vernon Hanssen, CEO and co-owner of Gourmandise, a gourmet bakery and café based in Salt Lake City, said finding candidates for hire in the food and restaurant industry has been particularly difficult lately.
“We’ve been trying to hire at all sites for months. All the restaurateurs I know are trying to hire, ”he said. “We have few to no applicants, and many don’t even show up for in-person, Zoom, or open interviews. We spend hundreds of dollars a month to post on different job boards. All the other restaurateurs that I know are in the same situation. “
This inability to hire more people puts additional pressure on staff to provide adequate service to customers, which will increase as restrictions related to the pandemic are relaxed in the coming weeks.
Hanssen blames the extension of state unemployment benefits and the federal weekly bonus combined with the strong economy for being the reason behind “creating the most difficult job market I have seen in the 15 years that we have owned Gourmandise ”.
“All the restaurants are hiring, but no one is applying,” he said. “I want to open a new location and hire about 50 people, but at this rate, I’m not sure if there are enough people in this state who want to work to be able to occupy a restaurant. I literally can’t open my patio downtown because I don’t have enough waiters and not many of them apply. “
With the passage of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, a weekly benefit of $ 300 is still available for those applying for unemployment benefits until September 4, said Kevin Burt, director of the insurance division. -Utah unemployment. But this temporary amount should not prevent individuals from seeking permanent employment.
“It is important to remind employers that if individuals refuse suitable work, they can and should report that refusal,” said Burt.
As for the issue of not having enough people to fill the vacancies, analysts believe this is an issue some sectors will face as food service companies transition to operating at full capacity after the pandemic.
“In the future, that will be one of the challenges – there are just not enough people to meet this demand from this very fast growing region,” said the vice president of Zions Bank and senior economist, Robert Spendlove. “What’s really interesting in Utah in particular is that our labor market participation has returned to pre-pandemic levels. So we’ve basically come back not only to that low unemployment rate, but we’ve also taken people off the sidelines and put them back into the workforce where we were before. The only problem we still have to resolve is the high number of people claiming unemployment insurance benefits and the specific sectors of the economy that continue to struggle.
He noted that for people who have been displaced from their jobs for an extended period – more than six months – due to the pandemic, it becomes really difficult to get back to what they used to do.
“People lose those connections, they lose their skills, sometimes the business shuts down completely. And so they kind of moved on, ”he said. “So some of those former restaurant workers maybe now work in construction or work for Amazon. They’ve kind of moved into a whole different area, so it will be difficult, especially with such a tight job market, for some of the companies that have suffered the most to return to where they were before.
Another economic analyst said that an additional consideration for potential candidates could be the potential health risks involved in a high-exposure industry such as restaurants.
“Part of factoring might also be, ‘I need a job, but the only job I can get is one that’s going to put me in COVID contact with people and I’m just not still ready for that? ‘ ‘said Mark Knold, chief economist for the Utah Department of Workforce Services.
Regarding the state’s low unemployment rate and historically high unemployment claims, he said there were a few factors at play that are creating a seemingly incongruous economic situation in the Utah job market.
“(Let’s) make an analogy with a room. You have the room that’s full of chairs and those chairs are jobs, and then they take some of the chairs off and then people have to get up in the room and look for another chair, ”he said. “Everyone in the room is still counted as part of the labor force, but there are people who have been in the room for so long or long enough and there are no chairs, they give up and leave the room. room. This is what is happening with unemployment (currently).
“When they leave the room, they are no longer counted in the statistics. That’s basically what happens in this environment, ”he added. “Most of the time, your unemployment rate goes down for a positive reason, which is that people who no longer have a job go looking for a job. But this is possible during short spells and difficult times when the unemployment rate may drop for a negative reason – only people leaving the workforce. “