Alison Schuch, owner of Fells Point Surf Company.
Courtesy: Alison Schuch
As summer arrives, Alison Schuch, owner of Fells Point Surf Co., has lost about 10 workers at her two beachfront retail locations as a perfect storm of reasons creates a post-pandemic workforce crisis.
The lack of affordable summer homes, the low availability of childcare places, inflation and the realignment of work and private life in recent years have meant that the applicant pool is different from what it once was.
“It was just difficult to balance the expectations of the team and the needs of the company and the needs on both sides,” said Schuch, “and then also the expectations of the customers – because you had to close early because we didn’t have enough people.
“Customers want what they want. Convenience has become a hugely important factor because you can go online and get anything you want, said Schuch, who operates Fell’s Point Surf Co. stores in the Fells Point area of Baltimore, Maryland and Dewey Beach, Delaware , as well as sister store Tangerine Goods in Bethany Beach, Delaware.
With summer hiring season in full swing, small business owners like Schuch have ongoing concerns about filling positions to meet consumer demand. According to the small business advocacy group, quality of work was the top concern for nearly a quarter of National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) members surveyed in May.
Quality of work has fluctuated between the No. 1 and No. 2 most important issue for NFIB members in recent months. The sectors in which companies feel the labor shortage The biggest challenges include construction, transportation and manufacturing, but retail and restaurant owners also report challenges.
In May, 44% of owners reported job vacancies they were unable to fill, while 38% said they were looking for qualified workers, according to the NFIB. While owners have concerns about future business conditions and a possible recession, they are still trying to hire employees and increase wages to attract workers.
Brendan McCluskey said he feels the lack of talent to hire at his Baltimore construction company, Trident Builders. In his opinion, the search for qualified workers is currently one of the biggest problems in a highly competitive environment, and the shortage is driving up wages.
“We are on the verge of having real growth opportunities, and [the concern is] Am I going to be able to staff there?” McCluskey said. “I’m trying to get to the next level and almost the next weight class, and that would allow us to stabilize our revenues, grow, invest in people, invest in systems. You just make more money in systems, honestly.”
Comprehensive immigration reform would also help close the gap, according to some industry advocates, such as the National Restaurant Association. The group has called on Congress to take action to strengthen visa policy and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, reduce wait times for asylum seekers and create the Essential Workers for Economic Advancement program. EWEA, introduced in a House bill last month, would allow workers to come to the U.S. to fill “market-driven” roles on nonimmigrant visas for three years.
“There is no panacea to solve the industry’s recruiting challenge, but even incremental changes to immigration policy would be significant progress,” Sean Kennedy, executive vice president of public affairs at the National Restaurant Association, said in a statement.
“The restaurant industry is growing its workforce faster than the rest of the economy,” he added. “We expect a further 500,000 jobs will be created by the end of the year, but with one job seeker for every two vacancies, operators are struggling to fill positions. Increasing the workforce with legal foreign workers would be a win-win for employers in desperate need of employees and individuals seeking training and opportunities.”
Back at the beach stores, Schuch said she has noticed a slight decline in consumer spending as shoppers appear to be watching their spending more closely. However, she hopes to continue to think long-term, even given the personnel challenges.
Employee satisfaction is our top priority.
“We are only as strong as our weakest link, and I want us all to be strong and for people to enjoy coming to work,” she said. “I think people are probably the main thing keeping me up at night right now.”