As California residents throughout the state eagerly await the economy’s reopening on June 15, Turlock businesses are struggling to hire workers in order to meet up with demand.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 4 million workers across the nation who left their jobs during the pandemic and haven’t returned. About half a million of those workers reside in California, says the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education, and the issue has reached the doors of plenty of Turlock businesses.
Whether it’s compensation from stimulus checks and unemployment, fear of the virus and job security or childcare issues, Turlock business owners are having a hard time finding qualified and interested candidates to fill a variety of positions, from the food service industry to skilled labor.
Ten Pin Fun Center general manager Mike Eggert says the past year has been the most difficult he’s faced in his years with the hospitality industry, and last March he had to lay off his entire staff of 136 employees. After reopening, then closing again, then reopening again over the past year, about half of those employees have returned to their jobs, he said.
While Eggert is aware of the rhetoric surrounding the workforce shortage and government-provided funds, he believes many of his employees — and others who may have otherwise considered working in the hospitality industry — have moved on to other employment opportunities after deciding that working in food and service is not a reliable source of income during the pandemic.
Additionally, workers are in high demand amongst all sectors as the economy reopens, and restaurants are in competition with each other to hire the best waiters, bartenders and more as they seek to serve an increasing number of customers.
“A lot of them look at me and ask, ‘What if we come back and we get shut down again?’ I just don't really have an answer,” Eggert said. “I tell them Ten Pin is always moving forward, not backward.”
Other restaurateurs around Turlock told the Journal they’re having trouble hiring employees as well, with many cutting back their hours due to staffing shortages. Eggert said Ten Pin is currently open only five days per week due to the problem and isn’t able to fully open their restaurant, although state guidelines now permit indoor dining.
And it’s not just the hospitality industry — Patrick Jensen of Paul’s Glass Co. also experienced the impact of the pandemic when several workers didn’t return to their jobs after taking time off early last year due to childcare issues.
“I’m down by three now since then and have been trying to hire somebody to take their place and have even offered them their jobs back. No one wants to do that because they have this other income stream coming in and now it’s been extended,” Jensen said.
The extra $300 federal unemployment benefit was extended through early September and is just one facet in a multitude of pandemic-related reasons that the workforce is depleted. After a comment was made by President Joe Biden this month that there aren’t enough jobs for the eligible workforce, Jensen said he had to laugh.
“I was thinking, it’s the absolute opposite. There are plenty of jobs and there is an eligible workforce, it’s just that they’re opting to go a different direction,” Jensen said. “As long as somebody is giving them something, they’re not motivated to go out and obtain it.”
Similar to the hospitality industry, Jensen finds himself in competition with other businesses in his field which are trying to poach his workers as they search for their own hires as well. An employee recently showed him an offer letter from another business that would have given the employee a higher salary, and Jensen was obliged to increase his worker’s pay.
Workforce shortages in all industries are impacting orders for Jensen’s business, he added, with products that used to take a week or two to arrive now taking months to be delivered.
“It’s every single industry, and it’s affected my business greatly here at the hometown level,” Jensen said. “It’s not just Paul’s Glass Co. and people in Turlock, the whole supply chain has been affected.”
Many businesses are offering incentives to try and coax eligible workers to apply for jobs, like Burger King, which is offering a $500 bonus to anyone who is hired. Eggert said his hiring team is exploring incentives they can offer to potential employees, and the business has had to shift their hiring approach to focus more on social media and community gatherings in addition to the usual online job posting boards. The business is hiring for all positions, he said, and he hopes that Ten Pin can be fully staffed by the time it’s allowed to fully reopen on June 15.
“We’re short staffed and business has been increasing every week and has gone up over the four weeks we’ve been open again,” Eggert said. “It’s been tough on the team and tough on the whole family, every day seven days a week.”