Employee Shortage Hits Businesses Hard
Newport This Week | Newport Now
By Alex Malm
Read the original article here
From West Main Road in Middletown to Thames Street in Newport, it’s hard to go to more than one or two businesses without seeing help wanted signs.
“Everyone in the hospitality/ restaurant industry has been struggling to fill employment vacancies this year,” said Charles Holder, manager of Midtown Oyster Bar.
Holder currently has about 30 jobs to fill between Midtown and the Surf Club. In a normal year, all those seasonal positions would have been filled by now. The staff shortage has caused him to turn away customers.
“The employment issue will lead to restaurants not being able to open back up to full capacity, even though the mandates are being lifted,” he said. “This will make it difficult for people to make reservations and get seats all over town.”
The workforce shortage is prevalent among local restaurants. The Clarke Cooke House has been advertising for months for various staff positions, and other places are even offering bonuses to entice applicants. The Conanicut Yacht Club, which is looking for bartenders, is offering a season-end bonus, while the Newport Restaurant Group is offering a 90-day bonus of $125 per-week from date of hire for cooks in Newport, Tiverton and Narragansett. The same restaurant group is hiring up to 400 seasonal, part-time and full-time positions, with more than 50 cooks needed throughout the organization’s 11 properties.
It’s not just the private sector that is having a difficult time finding employees. Michael J. Coury, director of human resources for City of Newport, said only 68 of 165 seasonal, full- and part-time jobs have been filled. Coury, who has been working for Newport for 31 years, said he has never experienced a similar situation.
One of the issues, he said, is that many people have moved on to different jobs after programs were suspended last year due to the pandemic.
One of the toughest positions to fill is for certified lifeguards, he added. With beaches open to full capacity this summer, he said certified lifeguards are in demand. In Newport, a higher rate of pay, along with numerous incentives, are being offered to attract candidates.
Coury is hopeful to fill the vast majority of positions.
“Our aim is to fill as many seasonal positions so we don’t have to limit or shut down services,” he said.
The Greater Newport Chamber of Commerce is working to address the employee shortage, said Erin Donovan-Boyle, executive director. The chamber is exploring the possibility of holding job and career fairs, and deploying a youth career specialist to make connections between 16- to 24-year-olds and open jobs.
She also said that the chamber is monitoring the federal discussion on bringing back seasonal workers with J-1 and H2B non-immigrant visas. The program has been suspended since 2020 due to the pandemic.
Additionally, she said that they are monitoring legislation being proposed to address workforce shortages and incentives. Currently there are 1,000 job openings on Aquidneck Island in the hospitality industry, she said.
“We are concerned that while restrictions are being lifted and businesses are preparing to open up for the summer season, we still won’t be able to be at typical capacity levels and serve the needs of patrons and visitors due to the significant shortage of labor,” she said. “This phenomenon will further complicate the impact of the downturn in the economy and hinder recovery.”
During his weekly COVID-19 press conference on April 29, Gov. Dan McKee said they are working on creating policies to help transition Rhode Islanders back to work. “As we continue our reopening, it’s time to get Rhode Islanders back to work safely,” he said.
McKee said that he has talked to employers across the state who have been having trouble recruiting staff and getting people back to work. “There isn’t one solution to this issue, but we’re taking input on ways we can get it off the ground,” he said.
During the press conference, he announced that legislation has been introduced in the House and Senate that they feel will help return people to the workforce.
“The proposed legislation would allow Rhode Islanders receiving unemployment insurance and the federal $300 bonus to work more hours, earn more and keep more while staying connected to the unemployment insurance system,” he said. “I know this will give many families a sigh of relief as many are struggling with tough decisions over the last year.”
McKee also announced that they would be reinstating requirements that any person on unemployment will be required to actively seek employment. Those requirements were relaxed during the early months of the pandemic, McKee said. The search requirement is expected to be reinstated by the end of May, according to DLT spokesperson Margaux Fontaine.
Holder called it “a big step” towards getting people back to work. “It also puts an onus on an employer to notify the [state Department of Labor] if applicants refuse to at least show up for interviews,” he said.