Staff shortages

Some restaurants in Tracy have had to reduce operating hours due to staffing issues.

Employee retention continues to be an ongoing epidemic in the U.S. as industries across the board face an ongoing struggle with hiring new staff and keeping them on the job.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics latest Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary (JOLTS) revealed that the number of job openings nationally has reached a series high of 10.1 million. Hires rose to 6.7 million, however, the total number of separations in the U.S. reached 5.6 million. The industries most impacted are professional and business services, retail trade and accommodation and goods services.

Locally, unemployment numbers continue to improve but many positions continue to go unfilled. Signs placed on the windows of different establishments in the Tracy area, for example, show a temporary decrease in hours of operation or a warning of delayed services due to being short-staffed. Tracy Press has also received an influx of recruitment advertisements ranging from local hirings, to job fairs and even out-of-state postings.

“I would say what I am seeing across most industries is it's just a challenging time for everyone. It’s a candidate’s market,” said Brenda Arnold, from the San Joaquin Valley branch of Robert Half Talent Solutions, a human resources consulting firm. “I don't see that just being exclusive to the retail industry or fast food or even to transportation companies. I believe across the board, what we're seeing is that employers are saying that it is much more difficult for them to find candidates with the right skills – they cannot hire fast enough to hire the best talent.”

From the candidate’s point-of-view, many factors come into play about why they may be resistant to work says Arnold, many of which tie to the COVID-19 pandemic. This can range anywhere from salary discrepancies to schedule flexibility to the work culture.

“It's been very fortunate smaller companies as well as our fast-food industries, where they typically hire individuals with entry level work skills. That's a step into the workforce,” said Arnold. “And unfortunately, even for those candidates, they're looking for more money. You know, some of them are receiving unemployment benefits. And sometimes the unemployment benefits that they're receiving are higher than what they would receive if they went to work.”

According to PayScale – a company that accumulates workplace data, including salary trends – The median salary provided in Tracy across all industries is currently $17.86, while the cost of living is about 56% above the national average.

Statistics from the month of July recently released by the California Employment Development Department show that San Joaquin County is currently at an unemployment rate of 9%, with 302,900 of the area’s eligible workforce employed out of a total of 333,000. About 30,000 San Joaquin County residents are currently unemployed.

The county’s unemployment rate is just slightly higher than the state average, which sits at 7.6% according to numbers released by EDD on Aug. 20. The numbers show that the employment rate has improved since this same time last year in July 2020, when the state’s unemployment rate was at a high of 13.2%

During the course of the pandemic, unemployment benefits have been increased as much as $600 a week as business shutdowns led to a large string of layoffs, which heavily impacted the middle class and families below the poverty line.

This fact has drawn many to speculate that those who are receiving the increased unemployment have lost the desire to return to work. But Arnold says that is not necessarily the case.

“I would not say that all of the workers are out there lazy. I think that's a that's a blanket statement for a large group of people that are unemployed,” said Arnold. “But I do think that there is that segment of the population that may not may not have been able to work during the pandemic, because they were homeschooling children or because they were taking care of family members that had COVID. Many people were also laid off. So, does unemployment benefits play a factor? Absolutely, it does. And when you're looking at an entry level worker, they're going to take a look at, ‘This is how much I'm earning right now. This is how much, if I go to work, it's going to cost me.’”

Arnold said right now is a time for employers to get creative. For offices, Arnold suggests offering competitive compensation packages and options for hybrid work schedules. For service and labor industries, she suggests offering competitive wages, sign-on bonuses or other compensation benefits, such as tuition reimbursement.

According to Arnold, some larger companies such as Target and Starbucks have already started implementing these types of recruitment strategies.

Dan Ball, General Manager of McLane Food Service in Tracy, said that the company is getting as creative as they can to attract workers to its 20 open positions.

“As the workforce starts to return everyone wants be to be selective and make sure they land where they will be successful. It’s almost like advertising overload on job opportunities. Every company is competing for the same candidates. It’s not just the starting wages that attract, but what you offer down the road,” said Ball.

Recently the company has raised its starting wages for warehouse workers to $21-an-hour, with a $2,500 sign-on bonus for warehouse teammates and $1,500 for employee referrals. Employees have the chance to make up to $26-an-hour in their first year and are also eligible for performance bonuses. Qualified drivers for the company are eligible for a $10,000 sign-on bonus with average wages being $52-an-hour.

“These jobs are tough hard work and not just anyone can do it. These wages are competitive and rewarding for someone that cares and works hard,” said Ball. “We have a lot of dedicated long-term teammates and after working here for few years, you get the chance really secure your future. When you’re just starting out, you’re only thinking about your immediate wants and needs: That new car or your first apartment. After you have been here a while, you start to realize it’s easy to plan for your future also. We make it easy for you to help yourself. That’s not always something you think of when you are first starting out.”

• Contact Brianna Guillory at or 209-830-4229.

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