How North Bay employers are seeking to fill ‘help wanted’ void in the pandemic economy
Whatever the latest turn with the pandemic, the near universal opinion from people in business today is they need more employees.
“It’s been almost impossible to hire anyone. We have been trying probably for the last four or five months. We have been dumping money into staffing agencies, all different kinds of websites, anything we can get our hands on. There are no takers,” Hannah Smith with Blue Ribbon Cleaning Services in Rohnert Park said.
The Sonoma County company is offering a $3,000 hiring bonus for house cleaners, and this summer raised its base rate for cleaners by $2 an hour to $17. With enough staff, it is losing business. To make it worse, Smith said she has success getting people to apply, then some never make it to their interview, while others show up for a shift or two and then don’t come back.
Broad spectrum of businesses need workers
James Benjamin, president of Shaw Plumbing in Calistoga, has rethought who he wants to hire.
“I have moved to hiring younger kids. Maybe they were doing maintenance at a winery and I can train them properly, how I want them trained; whereas experienced (workers) have a different mindset,” Benjamin said.
This isn’t the first time the Napa Valley business owner has implemented this strategy, admitting workers with him for a decade had come to the company lacking experience.
Downtown Napa Association President Allison Hallum said she has heard from an array of business owners that they are having difficulty filling positions.
“I think everyone is paying higher base wages, and if they can afford to, giving bonuses,” she said.
Hallum owns three restaurants in Napa: Eiko’s, Eiko’s Oxbow and Napa Noodles.
“I have thought about closing one or two days in week. I know others have because there are not enough employees and because of burnout.”
She added, “I spend most of my day looking for employees. I’m nervous that they could shut us down again so I don’t want to be overstaffed either.”
To compensate, because her people are working double shifts because of the staffing shortage, the sushi restaurant closes midday for a few hours to give them a breather.
The way Osprey Seafood in Napa has attracted workers is by promoting flexibility instead of long hours.
“We spun our ad saying great pay, great schedule, great work-life balance,” Culinary Director Kelsey Coulsen said. “We are trying to get people who are passionate about food. We get a lot of people from restaurants.”
This approach worked. Right now Osprey Seafood is fully staffed.
At Hand and Stone Massage and Facial in San Rafael, the company could use a handful more sales reps. Its sales staff makes an hourly rate plus commission. At the first of the year the base pay for sales associates went up $3 an hour to $18.
“The main issue is getting the interviewees to show up,” explained Larnice Mitchell, manager trainee at the Marin County business. She said people apply, she sets up an interview, and then that person bails without even calling.
Marin Coffee Roasters, which has locations in Novato, Ignacio and San Anselmo, also has had issues during the hiring process.
“Some have no-showed, some have come with tank tops and look like they had a rough night,” owner Tami Mock said of interviewees.
To try to get qualified employees Mock offers incentives to current workers if they refer someone who is then hired.
Hilary Touey, human resources manager at V3 Electric in Fairfield, said, “We have started posting our jobs in some platforms than we have not done before to widen the net. Typically, we just used Indeed. We started using LinkedIn, and we get a lot of traffic on Facebook.”
Bacchus & Venus Wines in Sausalito has a small staff at its tasting room—one person working full time and two part time, with the desire to add one more full-timer, and one part-timer.
Owner Todd Wheeler wants people to stay once they come on board. To do he is considering revamping the compensation package.
“The big thing I’m doing is looking at benefits. In the last couple of days I’ve been looking at implementing a 401(k) plan. I’m looking at any benefit I can add that make my jobs look more attractive,” Wheeler said. He’s also promoting flexible schedules.
In the last 45 days, Ultragenyx Pharmaceutical in Novato has brought on 80 people. This is in part to fill new positions and to replace those who have left the Marin County firm.
The job market for the biopharmaceutical market, especially in the Bay Area, had been tight long before COVID-19 hit. That is one reason why Ultragenyx created a policy to allow workers to stay remote if their job allows for it or only go to the office on a part-time basis.