Oregon hospitality positions are coming back online but where are the workers?
Wilsonville, OR– According to the Oregon Employment Department, approximately 136,000 Oregonians are actively looking for work. Even so, hospitality operators are having great difficulty finding applicants who follow through and take open positions within restaurant and lodging establishments in regions across the state.
As vaccination rates continue to improve with more supply on its way, hospitality businesses are looking ahead to the busy Spring and Summer seasons with plans to bring some of the lost jobs in the industry back online. In a March article available on qualityinfo.org, regional economist Guy Tauer of the Oregon Employment Department describes the drop off experienced in the hospitality industry. “From December 2019 to December 2020 the leisure and hospitality sector shed 38.7% of payroll employment, compared with a loss of 9.1% across all Oregon industries.”
With such a steep dive in employment numbers and substantially high levels of Oregonians searching for work, operators are expressing unexpected challenges in identifying their next teammates for crucial roles in their businesses.
“Oregon’s restaurant and lodging industries get a bad rap due to the size and scope of entry level positions available within our industry,” said Jason Brandt, President & CEO of the Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association. “But make no mistake – advancement opportunities in many companies across our industry are considerable for those pursuing careers beyond desired part-time work and those career opportunities can come with six figure salaries for managers in both restaurant and lodging settings.”
Outside of career opportunities, the hospitality industry has long been acknowledged as America’s training ground where our youth and those returning to the world of work can hone their interpersonal skills. “Many Oregonians, including myself, started their career working in restaurants,” said Tauer. “Those skills, such as getting along with coworkers, showing up ready and able to put in a full shift, providing quality customer service and countless more, are essential and transfer to many other industries and jobs.”
You can view Guy Tauer’s full article on the Oregon Employment Department website.
Recently the Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association reached out broadly to industry operators across the state to learn more about their challenges recruiting staff. The response was considerable. A small collection of responses from operators across Oregon regarding their workforce shortage challenges are noted below:
“Hood River is a seasonal town. Our spring staff-up for restaurants is always a challenge. This year, however, is unlike any other. On top of the difficulties from COVID closures we face scarce options for capable hires. Our ability to recover, ultimately to survive this past year is at grave risk.”
– Ben Stenn, Celilo Restaurant & Bar, Hood River
“It has always been more difficult to recruit kitchen staff but now it’s harder than ever. Even with a 50/50 tip split between front and back-of-the-house providing $25-$30/hr., applicants are few and far between. We have had a number of applicants tell us they are only applying so they can stay on unemployment. I feel like there needs to be more checks and balances to get people back to work and off unemployment as jobs are becoming available again.”
– Colin Rath, Migration Brewing Co., Portland
“Pig & Turnip as well as the business owners I have talked to recently are all struggling to find employees ready and willing to work. We currently have several job postings, and instead of the 75+ applications we normally get for a job, we have received two legitimate applications over the span of 12 days.”
– Natalie Sheild, Sheild Catering and Pig & Turnip, Springfield
“For the first time, in 27 years, I have positions in housekeeping and the front desk unfilled for almost a year. Never have I spent so much on ‘Help Wanted’ ads.”
– Peggy Backholm, Bandon Inn, Bandon
“Unemployment benefits and government stipends have made it excruciatingly difficult to rehire and hire people to work for our restaurants. Small, independently owned businesses like ours strive to pay competitively and continue to do so despite constraints mandates have put on how we can operate our restaurants. These difficulties make me fear for the likelihood of survival for in-state restaurants moving forward.”
– Andy Rhine, Cascade Lakes Brewing Co., Bend
“Like many of our colleagues in hospitality, we are currently experiencing some new challenges with recruiting. There were a number of individuals that switched industries during the early part of the pandemic when it became clear that it was a crisis that was not going to resolve quickly.”
– Cari Shafer, Oxford Suites, Pendleton and Hermiston
“We have been advertising available jobs since we opened again June 2020. It makes no sense that the Lincoln County unemployment rate is still high as most employers in the area are currently advertising for available work opportunities. This is the worst we have seen in 23+ years and we will have to shutter room inventory this summer if we are not able to fill available positions.”
– Drew Roslund, Be Our Guest, Inc. and Overleaf Lodge & Spa, Yachats
For a full list of hospitality operator responses (by region), visit OregonRLA.org.
“It is clear employers are anxious to welcome back new and former employees as the industry works to fill everything from low barrier to specialized positions,” said Wendy Popkin, Executive Director of the Oregon Hospitality Foundation charged with the advancement of careers in hospitality. “The challenge seems to be in getting the word out about available jobs and matching those opportunities to job seekers. Hopefully the latest job availability intelligence will help our industry continue to strengthen its relationship with the Oregon Employment Department as we seek to facilitate more connections between job seekers and growing opportunity in our state’s hospitality industry.”
The Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association is the leading business association for the foodservice and lodging industry in Oregon, which before COVID-19 provided over 180,000 paychecks to working Oregonians.