Many Alaskan businesses face an unprecedented shortage of workers as customers return and the pandemic subsides, even as many Alaskans remain without work. Thousands of jobs are available in the state, but employers say they are struggling to fill them.
This has prompted some, like the Bear Tooth Theaterpub and Grill in Anchorage, to suspend higher wages and one-off bonuses, or limit their operations until they can fully rest.
Stephanie Johnson, general manager of Bear Tooth, said people applied, but many did not follow through. Hiring has been slow, she said.
âIt’s unlike anything I’ve seen in the 20 years I’ve worked here,â she said. âThe hardest part is getting people in the door. “
The Bear Tooth needs to add about 50 people to fully reopen. The cinema remains closed to public screenings. And the restaurant opens later and closes earlier than before the pandemic.
To attract workers, the site is offering an additional $ 2 an hour for kitchen staff and other office workers.
The incentive will be paid retroactively to employees who stay until September 15. This will bring their salaries closer to that of waiters and bartenders who earn a larger share of tips, she said.
That means seasoned cooks can start at $ 16 an hour with the retroactive benefit.
âThe restaurant industry has needed to address some of these issues for a long time, and there is no doubt in my mind that the pandemic is forcing this to happen faster,â she said.
The lack of available employees is forcing some companies to rethink their salaries and incentives, said Paula Bradison, owner of Alaska Executive Search, a company that connects employers and employees.
âIt’s a very competitive market right now, and the people are in the driver’s seat,â she said.
Bradison said companies are increasingly curious about the right salary to offer new hires. Competition is strongest in entry-level positions in fields such as hospitality, retail and office support, she said.
But even the highest paying professional sectors offer more incentives, she said, such as the financial sector which has been busy processing federal loans and mortgages for COVID assistance.
âThey will say that if you sign that contract to work in Alaska, we will pay you $ 20,000 to pay for your moving expenses,â she said. âIt has always been there for some specialties, like physicians, but we are now seeing it in other industries. “
The Anchorage School District is offering a $ 500 bonus in hopes of hiring about 50 cafeteria workers, or nearly 25% of the normal workforce, said Andy Mergens, senior director of nutrition for district students.
The district closed schools to in-person classes last year, so it didn’t need cafeteria workers at the time. But while in-person classes have gradually resumed this year, many cafeteria staff have not returned. The district was managed by the mixing of workers between elementary, middle and high schools.
It’s not a long-term solution, he said. Without enough workers next fall, the service will take longer. This will shorten the already narrow meal time window for many students, he said.
Salary for cafeteria positions starts at around $ 14 to $ 18 an hour, he said. The bonus is a way to deliver more now while protecting the cafeteria budget, which is funded by meal sales, he said.
The Alyeska hotel in Girdwood needs around 80 employees, general manager Mandy Hawes said last week.
The hotel has started offering an additional $ 1 an hour for seasonal hires, paid retroactively to those who stay over the summer.
In addition to existing benefits, such as free lift passes for employees and dependents, the hotel is also offering new offers such as a travel allowance of $ 325 per month for workers coming from Anchorage and a referral bonus of $ 750 when employees find new hires.
âIt’s definitely a competitive environment,â said Hawes. “We want to make sure people stay all summer and feel good about their jobs with us.”
Local businesses are also choosing to reduce hours or services.
Gia Dinh Pho and Vietnamese cuisine in Midtown Anchorage reopened their on-site restaurants this spring after being closed for months, said Joy Kiehn, owner.
But he closed the food service again this week because he cannot find enough qualified employees for his dining room, she said. It currently only offers take-out after also reducing deliveries.
People apply, she said, but often they don’t follow through on interviews.
The restaurant pays minimum wage. In Alaska, it’s $ 10.34 an hour, $ 1 more than the federal minimum. With tips, employees earn more, from $ 15 to $ 25 an hour, and sometimes a lot more, she said.
The state’s AlaskaJobs database lists about 10,000 open jobs, said Lennon Weller, an economist with the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
Not all open jobs appear on this site, he said.
But he said there is currently a disconnect between jobs and potential workers. More than 30,000 people have collected unemployment benefits in Alaska in recent weeks, about five times the amount in May 2019 before the pandemic, Weller said.
Employers have often blamed the shortage of workers on a weekly federal unemployment supplement of $ 300, Bradison said. Several employers polled by the Daily News for this article said they believe the federal supplement is one of the main reasons for the shortage and lack of follow-up on claims.
In many states, this benefit will last until early September. But with the intention of getting people back into the workforce, Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration has joined with other Republican-led states in ending the supplement, starting this week.
Other factors are at play in keeping potential employees out of the workforce, economists say.
They include a mismatch between available jobs and people’s skills, a lack of childcare services that keep some parents at home, as well as a reduction in the number of seasonal workers who have already traveled to Alaska from others. States and abroad.
Pandemic restrictions at U.S. embassies have slowed the processing of J-1 immigrant visas that often bring many international students to Alaska for work, said Tom Tougas, owner of Major Marine Tours, offering cruises on the river. wildlife and glaciers from Seward.
It currently employs six J-1 workers from Eastern Europe, but would normally employ around 15, he said.
Still, he said he was full, with 110 cruise staff and two hotels he operates in Seward.
He said he didn’t need to pay more to attract staff. He said he had always offered high wages and benefits, including annual bonuses, in part because he had to keep a lot of his workers year round.
âWe have the advantage of being a year-round business with 30 years of operation in Seward, so people know us,â he said. “And generally, we have the highest wages for our industry.”