LIHU‘E — Businesses have seen an uptick in sales as tourism picked up since Kaua‘i rejoined the Safe Travels program on April 5, but they are still having a hard time hiring new employees to fill their business needs. It’s a trend that is continuing nationwide.
“As soon as we get more customers, it’s really impossible to get staff because they all moved away for opportunity reasons,” Opakapaka Grill and Bar owner Gregg Fraser said.
“We offer them jobs back, but they are on unemployment. In this restaurant industry, if you want to work there are ways to get money without having a job.”
Fraser said there are a lot of challenges the food industry faces, and just when they overcome one, another one arises.
“It is very difficult right now. I think our government is making it harder on business to survive,” Fraser said. “In the midst of all of this, to be contemplating raising taxes, God forbid, I am all for everyone making more money, but you can’t force businesses to pay a $15 minimum wage.
“They get so much more in tips. Every time we turn around, there is one more thing that is hurting the industry.”
Other challenges that Fraser has are that some of his employees live far away from his restaurant and have to deal with the daily Hanalei access schedule.
“The other challenge is the timelines of the convoy,” Fraser said. “My chef lives in Wailua. He got to pick up supplies, get into the convoy every day in and out. That’s the real challenge. We battle mother nature, the government, and when the people are comfortable right now, they are not hungry for money.”
Currently, Fraser’s open positions include line cook, prep cook, dishwasher, utility kitchen, bartender and server.
“That’s why we have this challenge. We have an uptick in sales,” Fraser said.
“You need four or five more people. I put an advertisement and recruited someone from North Carolina. I am flying them in and paying for their airfare, and two months’ of accommodations, ‘cause I need the people. I am hoping I can find people on O‘ahu and the West Coast.”
Fraser also tried hiring bonuses, but said it didn’t work. He got many applications, but the applicants were not qualified for the jobs that he listed.
According to a survey done by the National Federation of Independent Business, in April’s wake, 44% of small-business owners (nationwide) still have job openings they could not fill.
This number was 22 points higher than the 48-year historical average, and two points higher than the 42% figure from March.
April is the third consecutive month with a record-high number of unfilled job openings among small businesses. The federal Jobs Report was released Thursday, and is a national sample not broken down by state.
The NFIB Research Foundation has collected Small Business Economic Trends data with quarterly surveys since 1974, and monthly surveys since 1986.
Owners cited higher unemployment benefits as one factor. And a study released last month by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that a 10% increase in unemployment benefits during the pandemic led to a 3.6% drop in job applications.
Nationally, the employment report showed a 6.1% unemployment rate.
The Hawai‘i Employers Council recently released its own report, showing the results of a survey of 113 Hawai‘i employers covering more than 16 industries on their pay, benefits and workforce practices. Employers were asked what changes they planned to make to salary, bonuses, pay adjustments and defined-contribution plans.
Employers expressed cautious optimism that Hawai‘i’s economy is on the rebound. Some 14.7% reported plans for increases in pay/merit bonuses in 2021.
Additionally, while 50.2% said they would freeze salaries in 2020, only 19.3% reported such plans in 2021. An overwhelming majority (86.5%) reported not changing their defined-contribution plans, signaling that employers remain committed to employees’ long-term financial security.
“Hawai‘i’s employers are focused on moving forward with workforce-planning initiatives, balancing management costs with changing needs in their business sectors and taking significant steps to supporting employees as they recalibrate their business operations in a post-pandemic environment,” said Bonnie Pang, HEC president.
“Employers that prioritize their people and leverage high-quality data to make informed decisions on compensation and benefits will thrive as we exit this pandemic,” she said.
The survey asked employers how the pandemic has impacted their workforce, and found that of the 83 organizations with remote workers, less than half (44.6%) reported that less than 25% of their workforce worked/are working remotely.
“As Hawai‘i’s visitors return to stabilize our economy, jobs are returning, and good-paying ones,” said Melissa Pavlicek, NFIB’s Hawai‘i state director.
“Finding and keeping qualified employees has always been a concern for Hawai‘i small-business owners who don’t have access to the potential employees of other states.”
Meanwhile, the Grand Hyatt Kaua‘i Resort & Spa’s Director of Marketing and Communications Diann Hartman said they are slowly ramping up for more business since the county rejoined the Hawai‘i Safe Travels program on April 5.
“Summer is looking to be busier, so we have only begun to post jobs, so we really haven’t encountered many obstacles thus far in recruiting,” Hartman said.
“We have brought back many of our colleagues who were in a temporary layoff status and have more who are eager to return when our business needs increase. We’re hopeful that our reputation as a preferred place to work will be beneficial to help with staffing needs.” ••• Stephanie Shinno, education and business reporter, can be reached at 245-0424 or firstname.lastname@example.org. This story has been edited on May 10 at 8:12 a.m. for accuracy.