Washington’s hospitality labor shortage

Washington’s hospitality labor shortage
HB 1556 would help connect job seekers with the many available positions within the state’s hospitality industry. Photo: freepik.com

As Washington state is currently experiencing a low unemployment rate, industries such as hospitality in recent years have struggled to fill job openings. A House proposal would create a grant program for employers such as restaurants and hotels in order to better connect prospective workers with available positions. Hospitality industry members testifying at a Jan. 31 public hearing of the House Labor & Workplace Standards Committee highlighted previous successful efforts between them and state agencies.

According to the Washington Hospitality Association, in 2016 20 percent of restaurant members and 23 percent of hotel members said locating and maintaining workers was their biggest challenge. Two years later, the percentage of those businesses increased to 41 percent and 37 percent, respectively.

Under HB 1556, the grant program would be available for employers hiring people experiencing homelessness, veterans or their spouses, or people seeking hospitality-related jobs. Sponsor Rep. Jared Mead (D-44) told the committee that the grant would “help connect people who are most in need of finding employment.

“The reason that this partnership is key is because of the emphasis that ESD (Employment Security Department) and DSHS (Department of Social Health and Services) put on seeking homeless folks and formerly incarcerated people, or people just trying to reenter the workforce when they are recruiting,” he added. “This is a win-win for that reason.”

Under the bill’s provisions, the grant recipient would have to host a minimum of four hiring events throughout the state and create an annual report to the legislature showing who and how many people are being employed. They would also have to connect employees with wrapround services, i.e. childcare or bus services.

“With unemployment levels so low right now, we do continue to have open positions available,” Farrelli’s Pizza CEO Jacque Farrell told lawmakers, adding that hiring events “gives us access to folks who normally wouldn’t be walking through our doors.” Her company employees 400-500 people, depending on the time of year.

In 2017, WHA along with the ESD, WorkSource, the Workforce Development Council of Seattle-King County and DSHS hosted hiring events in King County. In the last two years, ashington Hospitality Association Education Foundation has used such events to offer 450 jobs.

However, Director David Faro told lawmakers that “we always have more jobs than job seekers.”

With 86 percent of Washington Hospitality Association membership composed of small businesses owners, “we need to make sure that we’re supporting the hospitality owners,” Faro said.

Testifying as “other” was ESD Legislator Director Nick Streuli, though he told lawmakers “one of the most successful ways we found to help rapidly employ job seekers is to partner with specific industries and associations to help make that connection and provide a targeted, sector-specific strategy that can scale at a regional and state-wide level to connect employers in that sector with qualified applicants. This type of strategy has a proven track record of success helping hundreds of businesses and thousands of job seekers every year all across the state.

“We believe that more partnerships, industries and people working together can provide better outcomes for our customers and job seekers around the state,” he added.

Executive action was scheduled for Feb. 5, but no action was taken. No further action is scheduled at this time.

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