GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — As West Michigan celebrated Labor Day 2022 amid an easing pandemic, employers continue to try to attract workers. They are increasing pay, but finding and retaining employees goes beyond dollars and cents.
The struggles are being felt by businesses attending the West Michigan Labor Fest in downtown Grand Rapids Monday.
“A lot of people have changed industries and what they’re doing with their lives,” said Lauren D’Angelo, who owns the Patty Matters food trucks and serves as the vice president of the Grand Rapids Food Truck Association. “I have noticed a drop in interest for people who want these kinds of jobs. I mean, we have had job postings up and they’ve gone weeks without any replies and it used to be you put a job posting up and you’d have 10 applicants by the end of the day.”
The unemployment rate nationally rose to 3.7% in August from 3.5% in July, though it’s still near historically low levels. D’Angelo said retaining quality employees is especially important in this labor market.
“Finding help has turned into a harder thing to manage. A lot of us are making sure we treat our employees right and they’re taken care of and that’s how we’re keeping our staff,” D’Angelo said.
Damion Parker, a Kona Ice shave ice truck franchise owner, has tapped those closest to him to try to find good workers.
“It’s kind of a struggle for most people right now,” Parker said. “A lot of us have to look to family and friends to get people to work for us, which has worked out for me very well.”
He worked the Labor Day festival alone to show his appreciation to his staff.
“I have a small staff so I gave my staff the day off so what I’m doing is working on Labor Day so they can have the time off,” Parker said.
The staffing challenges go beyond the food service industry. Josh Roskamp with International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees in Grand Rapids said companies need to be competitive to find workers.
“During the pandemic many people left the field … and we’re slowly bringing people back,” Roskamp said.
He said employees in his field are looking for better job security after the pandemic caused productions to be canceled.
“Job security, benefits, retirement. Hourly wages is a start but the reality is, in our industry, when the work goes away, there was nothing left for us,” Roskamp said.
Ryan Letts, the chair of the Kent-Ionia Labor Council, said employers are making other changes.
“I think a paradigm with the quality of work-life and the balance between professional and personal life is really starting to kind of come about when it comes to issues that workers are looking at,” Letts said.
He expects the struggles to continue and workers to remain in demand.
“I think there’s going to be some challenges in the near future,” Letts said. “Hopefully everything is on the right path.”