Nebraska restaurateurs struggle to find workers

GERING, Neb. (AP) – Jennifer Ahlers, manager of Gering Bakery, spoke to a job candidate on a recent Monday. It was his first such interview in months.

Ahlers said it was the company’s longest maintenance-free run in the 16 years she’s been there.

“We used to have people coming and applying daily,” she said.

But like many restaurants and businesses across the state and nation, Gering Bakery is in the throes of a labor shortage.

It’s not for lack of trying on the company’s part, Ahlers said. Through radio ads, word of mouth and Facebook posts, Gering Bakery employees regularly communicate that they are hiring. Often, candidates also express their interest in joining the company.

When it comes time for Ahler to sit down and meet them, however, she says they never show up.

“I’m going to schedule interviews every 30 minutes for a full day and maybe three people will show up,” she told the Scottsbluff Star-Herald.

Nebraska currently has an unemployment rate of just 2.2%. It is the lowest in the country and the lowest rate on record in the history of the state. However, it also creates an imbalance between the number of open positions and those looking to fill them.

“(People) don’t seem to want to work,” said Ron Ahlers, Jennifer’s stepfather and bakery owner. Ron Ahlers has operated it since 1989.

“They are not motivated to look for a full-time or even part-time job. “

The baker’s jobs they hire for are often late at night and physically demanding, but the job itself is pretty easy to do, he said. They have a staff of around 30 in various locations, but some workers don’t even take a day to quit.

“It’s not like we’re asking people to do a 10-hour day. Most shifts are 6 to 8 hours long, ”said Jennifer Ahlers.

Even when she was hiring for part-time jobs of just 10 hours a week, she said it was difficult to find people willing to commit the time.

Owners of local establishments have said they are struggling to compete with fast food restaurants for workers and customers. Fewer employees result in more overtime, resulting in less profit. Less profit leads to higher prices which lead to fewer customers. It is a vicious cycle that can be mitigated by having a full workforce.

When Marty Manley of Prime Cut Meat Market and Restaurant was asked if his ads had attracted new workers, his answer was an emphatic ‘no’. His restaurant has been a staple in the community for almost 47 years and currently employs 18 people, but it has not been able to increase its staff.

“In a normal year, I would probably get 50 to 70 requests per year,” Manley said. “Since COVID, I have been fortunate to have 25.”

Prime Cut is fortunate to have a low turnover rate, he said. But many people who apply to fill vacancies have no intention of actually working, according to Manley.

“A lot of them are filling out applications so they can go to the unemployed (offices) and say, ‘Yes, I’m applying. “We’re going to interview them and they don’t show up,” Manley said.

Manley said another major impact on his restaurant is the supply and price of the meat he sells. Companies do not have the meat they need in stock, or have very little of it because of labor shortages they suffer from. With the rising costs, Manley had to raise his prices to match them. He put up a sign apologizing for the price hike, assuring his customers that they would be cut as soon as meat prices did the same.

“The price of beef over the past year and a half has almost tripled, but people don’t realize it,” he said. “… I never want to think about shutting down, but you know it’s an option these days.” If you don’t have the staff to serve the customer (and) you don’t have the product to sell to the customer, what can you do?

“In this state, with COVID and the economy, I don’t know how long it’s going to take before that changes. If it ever changes.

Long-standing dining establishments like Gering Bakery and Prime Cut continue to persevere despite the stress. But their owners say the labor shortage is an epidemic that has affected all types of industry.

“I heard it from the banks,” Jennifer Ahlers said. “I heard it in bars. Retail stores, restaurants … every day there is a different story about a business that has to close its doors early or close its lobby because it does not have enough people to wait for them. people.

“And that’s in Scottsbluff and Gering. It’s in our hometown.

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