February 21, 2024

Alison Schuch, owner of Fells Point Surf Company.

Courtesy: Alison Schuch

As summer looms, Fells Point Surf Co. owner Alison Schuch is laying off about 10 workers at her two beach retail stores, citing a perfect set of reasons for post-pandemic The hiring crunch.

In recent years, the number of applicants has been different than before due to a lack of affordable summer housing, a lack of child care, inflation and work-life rebalancing.

“It’s hard to balance the expectations of the team, the needs of the business, the needs of both parties,” Schuch said, “and the expectations of the customers — because, you know, the doors have to close early because we don’t have enough people.”

“Customers want what they want. Convenience has become such a big factor because you can buy anything you want online,” said Schuch, who has offices in Baltimore, Maryland, and Dewey’s Phils There is a Fell’s Point Surf Co. store in the Cape area. Delaware Beach, and sister store Tangerine Goods in Bethany Beach, Delaware.

With the summer hiring season in full swing, small business owners such as Schuch have been concerned about filling job openings to meet consumer demand. Nearly a quarter of National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) members surveyed in May said workforce quality was the most important issue, according to the small business advocacy group.

In recent months, workforce quality has fluctuated between the number one and number two most important issue for NFIB members.Industries where businesses are feeling the labor shortage Worst hit were construction, transportation and manufacturing, but retail and restaurant owners also reported challenges.

In May, 44% of owners said they were unable to fill job openings, while 38% said they were looking for skilled workers, the NFIB said. Despite concerns about future business conditions and a potential recession, owners are struggling to hire staff and raise wages to attract workers.

Brendan McCluskey said he felt Baltimore-based construction firm Trident Builders lacked available talent. Finding skilled labor is one of the biggest problems he has in the competitive landscape right now, and shortages are driving wages up, he said.

“We’re about to get some real growth opportunities, (the concern is) can I staff them?” McCluskey said. “I’m trying to get to the next level, almost like the next weight class, that will allow us to stabilize our revenue, grow, invest in people, invest in systems and, frankly, just make more money.”

Main Street Recruitment Questions

Some industry advocates, such as the National Restaurant Association, say sweeping immigration reform would also help fill the void. The group is urging Congress to take action to strengthen visa policy and the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals program, shorten wait times for asylum seekers, and create programs for economically progressive essential workers. The EWEA, introduced in a House bill last month, would allow workers to come to the U.S. on nonimmigrant three-year visas for “market-driven” positions.

“There is no silver bullet for solving the industry’s hiring challenges, but even incremental changes to immigration policy would be an important step forward,” Sean Kennedy, executive vice president of public affairs for the National Restaurant Association, said in a statement.

“The workforce in the restaurant industry is growing faster than the rest of the economy,” he added. “We expect to add another 500,000 jobs by the end of the year, but with one applicant for every two vacancies, operators are struggling to fill vacancies. Adding to the workforce through legal foreign workers is critical for desperate employers. Saying that would be a win-win for employees and individuals looking for training and opportunity needs.”

Back at the beach store, Schuch said she noticed a slight drop in consumer spending as shoppers appeared to be paying more attention to spending. But she hopes that even with staffing challenges, she can continue to run the business with a long-term mindset.

Keeping employees happy is a top priority.

“We are only as strong as our weakest link, and I want all of us to be strong, and I want people to enjoy their work,” she said. “I think people are probably the number one thing keeping me up at night right now.”