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Shortage of workers impacting Missoula businesses

frugals hiring
Posted at 11:28 AM, Sep 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-20 13:28:30-04

MISSOULA — You see the signs on every storefront, every restaurant, every building -- ”We’re Hiring,” “Help Wanted.”

The shortage of laborers may be affecting your day-to-day activities even if you have gone back to work. Restaurants closing early, stores are staying closed an extra day, and many businesses are offering drive-thru only service.

We checked in with the Montana Department of Labor which says things are indeed looking up, but one industry in particular isn’t feeling the relief fast enough.

“We got through trying to stay open, and trying to protect our workers and trying to, you know, show customers that we were taking every precaution to make sure they were safe, and we figured it was just temporary,” said Frugals Brand Manager Tyler Clifford. “I don't think anybody expected the impact of both labor and supply shortages to be this long.”

Even with higher wages and signing bonuses, Missoula’s restaurants can’t seem to catch up.

We’re probably three-to-four people short of what we’d like to be, and it causes a tough job to be even harder, so we've had to look at ways to make the job more manageable,” Clifford explained.

“We've simplified the menu. We've tried shortening some of the days and times and closed down for a couple Sundays, just to give workers a break.”

According to the Montana Department of Labor, Missoula County’s unemployment rate was at 3.1% in July 2021, which translates to a little over 62,000 residents were working as of July while approximately 2,000 were unemployed.

Compared to where we were 6 months ago, that’s actually quite the improvement. Back in February, 59,000 people were employed, with a 4.9% unemployment rate.

While the unemployment numbers in Missoula County have improved, they may not feel that way.

When we checked out montanaworks.gov, we found 1,188 job openings in Missoula County alone and at least 10% of those job openings fall under the foodservice.

“It is hard to pinpoint what's going on. And what it's going to take to fix it, Clifford told MTN News.

While he may not know why they’re not attracting the usual numbers of applicants he notes that the foodservice in particular was a tough job even before the pandemic.

COVID-19 might just be the push that some folks needed to leave the industry permanently.

“The industry has always been difficult. It's a tough job and a lot of times people don't get paid, you know, what they deserve for how hard of work it is,” Clifford noted.

While other industries might be feeling the burden of the labor shortage lessening, the changes to his industry might be here for good.

“We haven't really seen a rush of people coming back so it's tough to gauge if things will ever go back to normal or if this is just the new normal,” Clifford concluded.