'I just can't find the staff': Many local restaurants, businesses struggling to find employees

Published on Friday, 4 June 2021 18:37
Written by DEAN WRIGHT

@DeanWright

It’s a hard question to answer for businesses recovering from the coronavirus pandemic: How does one attract workers and maintain a healthy budget after a year of revenue shortfalls?

As the nation seeks to recover economically from the financial and logistical challenges of the pandemic, businesses around New Britain and Bristol are grappling with their own answers and problems.

“It’s affected me in that we’ve had to cut our menu way down because we don’t have the cooks we used to to prepare food,” said New Britain East End Restaurant and The Clam Box Owner Nicholas Augustino. “I don’t have the wait staff (at East End). I had 13 and I’m down to four … I just can’t find the staff.”

Augustino said he had recently hired a few employees just out of college, but his work hours have increased significantly, along with family members helping the business to cover the needed shifts.

“I think the reason is well known,” Augustino said. “People are making more comfortable money (on unemployment) to take the summer off because of covid. They’re able to stay home with their kids and cook at home.”

Augustino noted he did believe one could make more money working, but unemployment was enough to keep people home. He said he has been raising his wages in order to attract more workers.

“You got to spend the money now to get the people; and take care of what you got because you don’t want them to leave,” Augustino said.

According to Capitol Lunch owner Gus Ververis, once covid hit he lost half of his staff.

“We had to cut our (business) hours a bit and increase our (administration) hours – we managed. Hiring is a lot harder now than it was anytime in the history I’ve been here. We’ve been open since 1929,” Ververis said. “I’m all for raises for people that are working and trying harder.”

Ververis added he doesn’t think minimum wage was made to support a family.

“(When minimum wages are raised) workers comp goes up. Insurance goes up,” he said. “This is the second time since covid hit that prices have increased in supplies. You can’t absorb all that. You’ve got to raise prices. We’ve been fortunate to stay busy.”

The Capitol Lunch owner said he has tried to balance his costs with rewarding his core group of workers. He has also picked up some “first time hires” that came recommended to him, even though he typically prefers to hire workers with some experience in the hospitality business.

Frank Kwok, owner of Great Taste, said much of the blame in hiring could be on unemployment but there may be other factors still being discussed in the public, such as child care needs.

“We’re pretty optimistic that in the fall, as some of the benefits relax, that can ease a lot of the issues going on now,” Kwok said. “For us here, we’ve not had that much of an issue although we’ve had a few who found work elsewhere when we were shut down for six weeks earlier in the year.”

Kowk said, overall, his staffing levels have remained stable. He did note the price of foods like meat had gone up significantly.

The hospitality industry is not the only one that has continued struggling with finding enough employees, however. Local manufacturers are also struggling to find workers.

“It’s limiting our growth,” said Bristol’s Arthur G. Russell Company President Mark Burzyinski. “We’ve got open positions and nearly two years worth of backlog at work.”

Arthur G. Russell Company creates assembly systems in large capacity disposable medical device production. Covid has created a larger demand in the creation of such supplies.

“America’s got an aging working population and its skilled workers are retiring or getting close to retirement,” Burzynski said. “A four-year degree isn’t what it used to be. Technical jobs can pay good wages quickly and a lot of times you can get it for much cheaper.”

Burzynski said he and colleagues have been focusing on public and private partnerships with the aim of attracting talent. Among those efforts have been overtures to students at the Bristol Technical Education Center. He said there is room for the country and Connecticut to grow in the direction of manufacturing.

Jason Howe, president and CEO of Okay Industries in New Britain, said that it’s continuing to invest in new technology while also needing employees to operate equipment as well.

“Our demand is increasing and the biggest challenge for us right now is that we have a need for more workers,” Howe said. “We have a lot of job postings for a variety of positions, but there aren’t enough people to fill the jobs.”

Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce President Cindy Bombard touched upon the challenges that both hospitality and manufacturing are facing.

“Hospitality is suffering big time because of having been shut down,” Bombard said. “They’re having a hard time getting wait staff and cooks because people are making more money on unemployment. Some have tried enticing others to come back and others have had to adjust hours to keep open.”

Bombard said before covid hit, however, manufacturing had already been suffering issues trying to find workers in the “talent pipeline.”

“We’ve been looking very diligently into that with our local manufacturers through committees and discussions and partnering them up with local colleges, universities in our area and tech schools,” Bombard said. “It’s been more important than ever to attract and retain those workers.”

Greater New Britain Chamber of Commerce President William Moore said Connecticut is still recovering from the 2008 recession.

“We’re still short of reaching the magic number of jobs we lost back in 2008 and 2009,” Moore said of the Connecticut job number recovery. “We’re about 140,000 jobs below the peak we were in 2008. That in itself is a serious challenge.”

Moore said the New Britain chamber has been focusing on helping local business recharge to reach greater numbers.

“I think we will eventually come out of this as unemployment benefits relax later in the year,” Moore said. “We’ve still got a road ahead of us though.

Friday, the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that around 559,000 jobs were added in the last month with unemployment nationally measured around 5.8 percent. The Associated Press reported this is an improvement from April’s lower numbers with an increase of around 278,000. The unemployment rate dropped from 6.1% to 5.8% but is still short of employer labor needs.

UNEMPLOYMENT STATS

As of April, the labor force in Connecticut is 1,740,500; 1,608,600 are employed and 131,900 are unemployed. In Bristol there are 30,628 workers; 28,032 are employed and 2,596 are unemployed. In New Britain there are 34,895 workers; 30,783 are employed and 4,112 are unemployed. In Plainville there are 9,672 workers; 8,920 are employed and 752 are unemployed. Plymouth has 6,073 workers; 5,613 are employed and 460 are unemployed. Southington has 22,633 workers; 21,225 are employed and 1,408 are unemployed. Berlin has 10,788 workers; 10,143 are employed and 645 are unemployed. Newington has 15,853 workers; 14,749 are employed and 1,104 are unemployed.



Posted in The Bristol Press, Bristol, Plainville, Plymouth, Southington Herald on Friday, 4 June 2021 18:37. Updated: Friday, 4 June 2021 18:39.