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P. C. Chamber Seminar Considers The Challenges, Opportunities of Workforce Shortages

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Utah DWS
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The resort economies of Park City and Summit County face a workforce shortage in the wake of the pandemic.

In response, the Park City Chamber/Bureau hosted a panel discussion Tuesday, as representatives from local business, the city and county and the state of Utah discussed the challenges and possible solutions.    

The seminar drew about 40 attendees to the Sheraton Hotel.

They heard from Park City Economic Development Manager Jonathan Weidenhammer, who reported on what he’s hearing from the business community.    He said they’re short-staffed, wages are rising dramatically for so-called “back of house” staff, like waiters and dishwashers, and employers are often passing on the costs, which means, for instance, higher prices on menus.

But he said the mood is resilient, not desperate.      

“They’re incredibly challenged in that the outside economy, people who do construction and landscaping, there’s so much growth and so much competition in that field.    A lot of people that would typically work at a ‘back of house’ place—they’re working outside.  They can get longer hours, they can get more money.   And they’d just as soon in the summertime, be outside—so that was one of the three that really caught my attention.   Again, back to that people are tired.   Between COVID and the amount of visitation, we really have no shoulder season.   There’s been no time to catch up.  Everybody I talked to that was a G. M. or an owner—they’re really tired.   They’ve been cranking, and they’re working ‘back of house’ shifts.  Owners of companies are doing, cleaning rooms and doing dishes.   And I think it’s just—we gotta watch that one.   Is it really sustainable?"

He talked about other ways employers are adjusting.   

“Restaurants are dropping meals.    They won’t do lunch.  Or they’re dropping two or three days a week altogether, just so they can give their staff a break, give em family time.  Owners that have multiple businesses are cannibalizing.  They’re putting their staffs where they can make more money.”

Summit County Economic Development Director Jeff Jones said the pandemic accelerated trends the country has been seeing for years—a decline in fertility rates, working-age men dropping out of the workforce; women leaving jobs or careers to care for children or other relatives; and Boomers taking early retirement.

In response, Jones recommended that employers hang on to the workers they have, even if they have to pay more.  He said it’s more expensive to train a new employee.

And Jones said employers have to prepare for workers shifting jobs.      

“For example, somebody may be working in a restaurant, earning, let’s say, $17 an hour.  That same employee could join the U.S. Postal Service, delivering mail—not a very exciting job maybe on a lot of fronts—but earn the same hourly rate, but then they have retirement and health insurance.  I think over time what has to happen are that this lower-skilled positions need to be compensated at a rate where the bottom of the professional band position or other trades could offer more of those types of comprehensive benefits have to become more closely aligned.”

From the Utah Department of Workforce Services, Patrick Donegan and Worley Pace encouraged businesses to use resources such as the website “jobs.utah.gov.”

One frustrated business owner asked about job candidates who don’t show up for interviews, or who ultimately turn down a job offer.

Donegan said employers can do something about that.        

“And there are actually repercussions now, if you report those people to Unemployment Insurance.  If they turn down a comparable job to what they were making, they can actually end their ‘U.I.’ benefits.    That is something that’s always actually been the case.  But you’re right.   It is difficult because they’re assigned a fraud investigator.   And you can imagine how many cases are open right now, because that’s what we heard all the time from employers, like ‘I offered em this job but—‘I’m making two to five times more than what I was making before on unemployment.’  We have a lot of dependency that’s been enabled because of our government right now, just trying to throw money at the problem.   You’re absolutely right.”

Steve Mullins, a Staff Engagement Manager at Deer Valley, said worker shortages and impacts of the pandemic slam every employer, large and small.     

“We’ve seen a huge shift of workers from the hospitality industries into other sectors, cause again, there’s a lot more concern about guests coming into our city, into our communities.  We don’t know if they’re vaccinated or not.   We might be vaccinated.  At Deer Valley, we’re doing everything we can to protect our staff and our guests, but we don’t know.  And so a lot of people don’t feel comfortable as they used to.  And so they’ve moved onto other areas, other businesses, other regions of the country even.”

Steve Mullins from Deer Valley, who said the resort recently raised the minimum wage to $15 for non-tipped employees, is examining other perks and benefits, and giving candidates a chance to grow with the business.

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