Even with COVID-19, are companies still struggling with a labor shortage?

Davis Vergnolle
April 9, 2021

COVID19 has taken the lives of over 540,000 Americans and over 27 million Americans suffered from COVID19. In April 2020, over 14 percent of the United States population was unemployed. It was the greatest surge in jobless in over 80 years. Even now nearly a year after the pandemic began, unemployment in the United States still remains at historical highs. Yet despite all this, US employers in service industries such as restaurants and manufacturing are still struggling to fill vacancies. Manufacturers are struggling to staff unskilled, entry level positions vital to their production operations. However, finding people motivated to commit to “starting at the bottom” and work up is proving to be difficult.

While in past downturns these sectors were a critical lifeline for the newly unemployed, COVID19 and unemployment benefits are encouraging potential US workers to stay home or look for work elsewhere. Key demographics that fill these voids – US teenagers and the elderly – are staying away for both health and safety reasons and because emergency-enhanced unemployment checks can pay was much or even more than a check as a waitress or waiter.

While traditional restaurants struggled, fast-food chains and delivery-focused companies such as Papa Johns and Domino’s Pizza all thrived due to increased social distancing and the food for delivery. Indeed, McDonalds this summer in the midst of the pandemic announced plans to hire up to 260,000 but was not able to fill all those vacancies. Subway, Taco Bell, Dunkin Donuts, and others also announced similar hire surges to meet growing demand due to COVID19 related restrictions which limited in-door dining, theatres, sports, and other options.

In August, Michael Lippert, president of GPS Hospitality, which operates almost 500 Burger Kings, Popeyes, and Pizza Hut locations lamented the tough labor market and in August they held a virtual job fair hoping to hire 3000 workers.

Michelle Kaufman owns the Paddle Trap, a burgers and comfort food-type restaurant near Bismarck, North Dakota. She spends a part of her day, every day, posting jobs on Indeed. For every dozen interviews, she nets about one hire, and they’ll often last just a few shifts. When she asks why, they’ll say, “you know, I didn’t realize how many people I would be around every day, and I don’t want to take this home to my family,” Kaufman said. The virus is hurting her bottom line. The staffing shortage is annoying potential customers who are eager to eat out.

As America’s population continues growing older, the U.S. economy will actually need even more workers for the service and manufacturing sectors of the economy. That’s why programs such as the EB-3 Unskilled Visa Program will be critical for the continued economic success of the United States. The EB-3 program workers are eager, motivated and committed to work! In the long run, the winners will be companies who recognize the benefit this program brings them. After all, isn’t it a competitive advantage to have a full strength workforce?

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