For the first time in 30 years in the restaurant business, Jack Hodge can’t find workers.
“There’s always the young kid who wants to be a dishwasher,” he said.
But now, as manager of The Hungry Horseman restaurant, he’s had a tough time finding anyone willing to prep the line or soap up plates for $5.50 an hour.
His restaurant has had openings for a prep cook and a dishwasher for a month. And for the first time, he’s placing requests with the state Labor Department.
The situation is the same for many Kootenai County employers. For the past six months the number of requests for employees with the Idaho Department of Labor has increased steadily from last year. This month, worker requests have hit record numbers - more than 500 at one time.
These numbers are higher than the typical summer’s end, marked by seasonal employees and students leaving jobs. Panhandle employers dependent on service and tourism industries are accustomed to this kind of turnover.
But this season, there are more jobs available and they are not being filled as quickly, said Lee Allmann, employer relations consultant with the Idaho Department of Labor.
“Some employers have put ads in the paper and had no results,” Allmann said.
Interestingly, the Panhandle has a higher unemployment rate than the rest of Idaho - 8.4 percent compared to 4.9 percent in July.
So why would so many jobs be available?
It’s a new, somewhat unexplainable phenomenon, said Kathryn Tacke, labor market analyst with the Department of Labor.
Reasons could range from more workers moving up to higher paying jobs, job seekers becoming more discriminating, higher paying jobs in Spokane, or a decrease in the size of Kootenai County’s work force.
Humanix Temporary Services recruits temporary workers for more than 600 regional companies. Its office has seen a decrease in the number of people looking for jobs.
“We have unfilled orders we used to never have before,” said Humanix President Julie Prafke.
But it’s not simply Kootenai County or Spokane, it is a national trend, she said.
For the past four to six months, the economy has done well, meaning low unemployment rates and a surplus of jobs, she said.
Although most companies haven’t increased wages, they have become more flexible with scheduling and hours, she said.
Catalog sales company Coldwater Creek hired 250 employees last year at its call center in Coeur d’Alene and now plans to add 250 more, said Mary Davis, Coeur d’Alene administrative assistant for the Sandpoint-based company.
Davis said the company has had some difficulty filling the positions, but receive many applications. However, some workers don’t have the customer service or computer skills to fit the position. For every one hire, she goes through 14 applicants, she said.
“We’re just very selective. I don’t know if it’s the market or not,” Davis said.
At Express 41, a gas station on the corner of state Highway 41 and Poleline, assistant manager Kathy Jackson has had difficulty finding applicants with skills.
Jackson has been looking for a worker for a month. She sent in a request to the Department of Labor and not one person applied. She put a sign in the window, and received applications, but few with the skills and the schedules to qualify.
“It’s hard,” Jackson said.
No one knows for sure whether it’s the market, the season or the work force, said the Labor Department’s Allmann.
“This may be like the stock market. (Job requests) may be high and then drop off next month, and we’ll be back to business as usual.”
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