The urgent need for personnel increases | New
In case you missed all of the “help needed” signs, Moore County is clearly a job seeker market. Employers in service industries like restaurants, retail stores, and hair salons are all looking for help – and finding few takers at this point.
Business owners say the decrease in the number of job seekers is the result of a combination of factors, exacerbated by the American Rescue Plan Act. Signed into law last month, this law extended federal unemployment benefits related to the pandemic by $ 300 per week until September 4.
Combined with public benefits of a similar amount, some find that they can collect unemployment benefits and collect as much or more than certain jobs pay.
The most recent unemployment data puts Moore County at an unemployment rate of 5.2%, the same as the state as a whole. It’s pretty typical for this time of year. According to the North Carolina Department of Commerce, Moore County has approximately 41,000 people. In February, approximately 2,116 were unemployed. March figures will be released shortly.
But it’s not just Moore County residents who have local jobs. The local service sector relies heavily on workers who come from the surrounding more rural areas, where unemployment figures are generally higher. The county of Scotland, for example, had the highest unemployment rate in the state, at 10.9% in February.
But since the jobs are not filled, restaurants must find other solutions. Some have reduced their hours of operation so as not to exhaust their current staff. Others have kept their dining rooms at reduced capacity to ensure that customers receive the same level of service. And some have offered signing bonuses or raised salaries to attract new hires.
“We’re busier now than we were in 2019, probably at least 25%,” said Kelly Ward of Midland Bistro in Southern Pines. “Every morning we are completely filled with golfers. Plus, with more people getting the vaccine and things opening up more, we’re seeing more of our regulars. “
Ward’s restaurant on Midland Road is known for its quaint atmosphere and emphasis on local produce. Her hiring problems began last year after it reopened following state-ordered closures that began in March 2020. Almost all of its employees returned, initially, but then lost a handful to cause of military relocations.
“I ran an ad after an ad after an ad to fill these positions,” Ward said, noting that two other employees have since quit and have applied for COVID-related unemployment benefits. “So you have a situation where people are making money at home doing nothing. But what happens when they all want to come back to work? “
Before the pandemic, Ward typically worked 40 hours a week. These days, she accumulates 65 to 70 hours in restaurants, in addition to 10 to 15 extra hours per week for paperwork.
“I prepare, I cook, then I wait for the tables in the afternoon. My 72-year-old mom does the dishes, ”Ward said. “I’m grateful for the business but at the same time I’m exhausted.”
Ashley Van Camp, a native of Southern Pines, closed the doors of Ashten’s restaurant for several weeks in 2020. She thanks the Federal Paycheque Protection Plan (P3P) for ensuring her staff remain employed.
“I have a core of people who have been with me forever. But I also spice up younger employees or people who can only work a few nights a week. They make a big difference since the core group cannot work every day, ”said Van Camp.
As the pandemic progressed, these part-time helpers and younger staff did not stay. That left only his main group to run the day-to-day operations of the downtown restaurant and pub. Van Camp believes many people have left the restaurant business for good as a result of COVID-19.
“(Independent) restaurants are usually not big enough to offer benefits like health insurance. They may also have found jobs that didn’t require them to work nights and weekends or found jobs with a more consistent paycheck, ”Van Camp said. “It’s difficult for a city that relies on hospitality. There was a small pool to tap into and they just weren’t there.
For now, Van Camp has decided to close Ashten on Mondays and Tuesdays.
“My staff were stressed and exhausted. And our customers expect Ashten as before COVID: this detail, this service. What they don’t realize is what we’ve been going through for over a year. They need to see that the hospitality industry is in trouble because these vital people are not available. “
On the corner of downtown Southern Pines, Con O’Mahoney of the Bell Tree Tavern also announced last week that it would be closing its restaurant and pub on Monday and Tuesday evenings. This decision stems directly from the federal government’s decision to extend unemployment benefits until the summer.
“I’ve been posting job offers for months. We haven’t been able to hire people even though our pay has gone up, ”O’Mahoney said. “My staff are good and thank God we have a community that supports local businesses. But when it comes to hiring, you can’t do it.
“You have franchises that offer $ 10.50 an hour to start, you have Olive Garden that offers signing bonuses, you have people changing their hours of operation, and you have help wanting signs. be posted everywhere, ”he added. “Other places are seeing that too, it’s just that we’re booming in Moore County and that’s a good thing.
“With jobs, there is money to be made and left on the table. We just don’t have a workforce.
O’Mahoney also sees a general downward trend with fewer people entering restaurant work, which is known to be a demanding and fast-paced environment. In addition, the increase in the number of military families living locally has created a greater demand for services.
“We are fortunate to have an influx of special forces. They are the reason we are thriving in this county. They’re building houses left and right and the market is amazing, ”O’Mahoney said. “But these guys have jobs. Not all of them are married, but those who are, their spouses are looking for flexible work or raising a family, and their children are usually not old enough to work.
Reducing the hours of operation of the Bell Tree Tavern made strategic sense, despite the loss of revenue.
“We are controlling the damage. It is not a perfect scenario or a perfect science. I felt like my staff needed downtime, ”he said. “You hate shooting yourself in the foot and not having money. But you have to decide if the money is worth it or if the quality of life is worth it. You can keep your employees and give them a break or you will sacrifice even more. “
Kevin Drum, owner of Drum & Quill in Pinehurst and chairman of the board of directors of the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association Foundation, said the region’s hospitality industry needs to look beyond the current hiring crisis. .
“We have a PR problem to get people interested in working in restaurants. We have a hiring shortage problem, and we don’t have a local pipeline with a trades school, ”Drum said. “There’s a lot going on there and I fight every day.”
Drum would like to see Moore County schools and Sandhills Community College rekindle their plans for an advanced career center. Programs should include a foodservice industry-designed culinary business program with learning opportunities at local restaurants. Likewise, he sees value in more robust construction / building and STEM trades programs to encourage economic development.
“Instead of complaining about the situation, which is real, I try to resolve it. There is no better spending than education and I recommend that we use some of this coming federal stimulus money.
“It’s not just a COVID issue, it’s a constant problem,” Drum added. “We are not closing our doors as a hospitality destination. We are open all the time in Moore County. We don’t have the luxury of closing, and the best way to maintain that is to have high-level programming on local trades. The first thing a business looks for is knowing where to find its workforce. “
Especially annoying is the labor shortage in restaurants, he said, as the work can be lucrative, versatile, and can be a great training ground for other pursuits.
“With a job in the hospitality industry, you can live anywhere in the world you want,” Drum said. “This job also prepares you better for life. You don’t mind the hospitality industry if you use this position as a bridge to your future career. We teach you how to deal with people, deal with problems and take responsibility. “
“And it’s also a very good job as a career. I have servers that make more money than if they worked for an American company. “