December 8, 2022

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The Sonic at 13535 W. Maple St. is only operating its drive thru and not offering service at any of its stalls due to the labor shortage. (Sept. 18, 20210)

The Wichita Eagle

Small-business owners in Kansas are faring slightly better than the rest of the nation in facing a labor shortage, a new survey says.

But 58% of small-business owners in Kansas still said it’s very difficult to hire workers. Nationally, 66% of small-business owners reported the same, according to the survey on hiring from Alignable, an online referral network for small businesses.

The concerns about a shortage of workers persist in the restaurant and hospitality industry in particular. The poll shows 80% of Kansas restaurant owners said they can’t find help. Across the country, 85% of restaurant employers reported an inability to find help.

Wichita restaurants are cutting back hours, or closing on certain days, to cope.

Picasso’s Pizzeria in Delano closed on Tuesday because of a staff shortage, according to the restaurant’s Facebook page.

“We are truly sorry for the inconvenience and hope to get this labor issue resolved soon. Thank you for your understanding,” the post read.

Vietnom Nom, a Vietnamese fast-casual restaurant in west Wichita, posted Thursday that it will limit its hours and services beginning Friday because of a labor shortage.

“Like many local businesses, we have been facing some staffing challenges as of late,” the post read.

The restaurant will be closed on Thursday and Sundays. Monday through Wednesday, customers can only dine in after 3:30 p.m.

”We normally are open six days a week and are down to four and a half now,” Vietnom Nom owner Huyvu Nguyen told The Eagle.

Staff has rotated in and out of the Vietnamese restaurant. Sometimes the owner gets someone new in, only to have another person leave. One employee recently left to work at Amazon, Nguyen said. He said his small business can’t offer the higher wages that larger corporations can.

“It almost is like you take one step forward and then two steps back,” Nguyen said.

Vietnom Nom typically employs younger workers in high school or college, but always had enough people to work mornings when students were in classes. Lately, the morning shifts have been difficult to fill, and the employees have been trending even younger.

“I’ve never hired so many 15-year-olds ever,” Nguyen said. “But that’s the hand we’re being dealt, so I’m happy to give them the opportunity.”

He pays inexperienced workers minimum wage, or $7.25 an hour. The restaurant shares tips, so pay can end up around $9 or $10 an hour with tips, he said.

What’s causing the shortage in Kansas?

Nguyen, like many other restaurant owners, blamed the staffing problems on extra unemployment benefits offered during the pandemic. Those additional benefits ended Sept. 4 in Kansas.

Republican politicians, including those in Kansas, also blamed unemployment for the labor shortage and pushed to end the benefits early. Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly declined.

Many economists, on the other hand, have said unemployment benefits were not largely to blame. Other factors like a fear of contracting COVID-19, elder and child care, flexible work schedules and more also hold employees back from the labor market.

Just 11% of Kansas small-business owners reported no difficulties hiring right now, compared with 6% nationally, according to Alignable.

Kansas employers have tried to combat hiring issues with a number of workarounds. About 21% of business owners have tried reducing their hours, 14% have offered other perks and 7% hired gig workers, or job-to-job employment, according to Alignable.

Around half of both Kansas and national employers who took the Alignable poll said they pay higher wages now than before the coronavirus pandemic in order to entice employees. More pay has been the most effective way to fight a labor shortage, they found.

Business owners have found success in hiring through referrals from other businesses, according to Alignable, which set up its own hiring solution portal to offer expert advice, local resources and more.

Nguyen feels like Vietnom Nom has done what it can on its end.

“It’s almost the reverse. We’re selling ourselves to applicants versus applicants selling their abilities to our business,” he said. “We’re doing the recruiting now.”

Quality concerns

Ad Astra Food and Drink, a restaurant in Strong City near the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, had to close Saturday evening because it didn’t have enough staff. It remained closed Sunday, according to the restaurant’s Facebook page.

“We are sooo sorry but these things happen . . . we simply don’t have enough staff to open this evening and take care of you the way that you deserve,” the post read.

Nationally, employers are looking to fill both full-time and part-time hourly positions. Almost 70% of the open jobs reported are for in-person work, like at restaurants, according to Alignable.

Employees are using a variety of routes to seek jobs. Poll respondents listed Indeed as a top tool, with 50% reporting they use the website in their job hunt. LinkedIn is also popular, with more than 41% of workers saying they used it.

Personal referrals were also still high on the list for workers on the search for employment, and many found that method to be successful.

Alignable’s top takeaway is that both employers and employees should leverage their network and contacts when searching for a job or looking to fill open positions.

The survey results come from Alignable’s member survey that ran from Aug. 21 to Sept. 13. In all, 4,079 people responded. Of those, 52% were employers, 22% were employees and 26% listed themselves as both employees and employers.

Concerns about a labor shortage have persisted since spring, when federal labor department reports showed that the economic recovery from the pandemic was moving more slowly than expected.

Wichita restaurant owners say it is still a problem, regardless of its root cause.

Taco Rio, a fast food Mexican restaurant in Wichita, has also had to shorten its hours. A post on the restaurant’s Facebook page said owners still need to hire a couple more people to complete the staff. It’s offering starting pay at $9 an hour and 67% off employee meals, according to the post.

The restaurant has posted about abrupt closures or cut-back hours since at least late August and posted about hiring since July.

“From 11-4 today we had to run a 3 person staff instead of our normal 6 and our standards that we uphold ourself to was not met,” someone with Taco Rio commented on the Facebook page. “We don’t think it’s fair to our customers to not get what they come for at Taco Rio.”

Help us cover your community through The Eagle’s partnership with Report For America. Contribute now to help fund reporting on employment and other issues facing Wichita workers, and to support new reporters.

This story was originally published September 17, 2021 5:00 AM.

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Megan Stringer reports for The Wichita Eagle, where she focuses on issues facing the working class, labor and employment. She joined The Eagle in June 2020 as a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities. Previously, Stringer covered business and economic development for the USA Today Network-Wisconsin, where her award-winning stories touched on everything from retail to manufacturing and health care.


https://www.kansas.com/news/business/article254270443.html