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Business owners still battling staffing shortages months after COVID lockdowns

Many restaurants struggling with recruitment and retention of workers months after covid lockdowns were lifted.
Published: May. 25, 2022 at 5:53 PM EDT|Updated: May. 25, 2022 at 6:36 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Being short-staffed could become the new normal for some businesses, especially restaurants.

Although Virginia’s unemployment rates are low, you can find openings on just about every corner. Experts believe workers found ways to earn money from home during the pandemic and stuck with it, straining local businesses.

“If you can find the people - sometimes they show. Sometimes they don’t,” Trey Owens said.

Owens is the co-owner of three restaurants: JewFro in Shockoe Bottom and both Soul Taco locations. Before the pandemic, his restaurants were fully staffed, with about 40 employees across all three restaurants. Now, he’s down to about 25 workers. He said the pandemic revealed a harsh reality.

“In this industry, people historically have been mistreated to the point where, you know, when the pandemic happened - they just didn’t want to come back,” Owens said.

Burnout and low pay likely sent most workers to find remote work during COVID lockdowns.

Unemployment numbers, however, appear promising at 3 percent in March and April, according to the Virginia Employment Commission. VEC’s senior economist, Timothy Aylor, said there’s a clear explanation for that.

“When the labor force shrinks, the number of unemployed make[s] it look like the rate is better than what it actually is,” Aylor said.

Rising inflation only fuels Owen’s problems, but he remains hopeful for a much-needed return to normal.

“What we have to do now is just really kind of focus on the people who love this industry for what it is but for what it can be and try to grow with and change with them,” Owens said.

The National Restaurant Association worries thanks to newfound jobs, the restaurant industry may never return to as it was before COVID-19.

Copyright 2022 WWBT. All rights reserved.

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