Seasonal hiring struggle

Marc Jackson, 18, sweeps the parking lot at Marsh's Free Museum in Long Beach. Jackson is among the student-age employees who account for a swell of seasonal employment along the coast.

Food service and hospitality, two of Clatsop County’s largest employment sectors, are facing hiring hardships ahead of the summer season.

As tourism continues to grow in coastal communities, so does the need for places to eat and stay, particularly during summer. However, many employers in the industry are finding fewer applicants and having more difficulty retaining employees ahead of the busiest season of the year.

“They don’t pay enough,” said Riley Briggs, 20, explaining why he reconsidered a seasonal job in a restaurant. “I can make $30,000 this summer,” he added. Briggs recently relocated from Everett to Seaview to work a seasonal position at a local restaurant. After a few weeks, however, he moved to a seasonal position as a seafood processor in Warrenton. The position came with a higher starting pay and overtime opportunities. He’s been working 72-hour weeks in 12-hour shifts six days a week. Including overtime, it’s not unusual for him to earn $1,000 a week.

Four weeks into his new job, Briggs, was scrolling through potential purchases on his phone, stopping to admire a $400 pair of sneakers.

“I’m really thinking about getting these,” he said eyeing the rare pair of Nike Air Jordans. He’s also considering buying a new car.

“Maybe a Miata,” he said, observing that it wouldn’t be possible if he were “still flipping burgers.”

The employment landscape of coastal towns in northern Oregon and Southern Washington is changing, especially in Clatsop County. In 2001, the local food service and hospitality sectors in Oregon’s “Northwest Region”, which includes Clatsop, Tillamook and Lincoln counties, employed an average of 3,040 employees annually. In 2016, that number had ballooned to more than 4,000, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). However, finding quality workers to fill these jobs has been an ongoing issue for employers, particularly in restaurants. With an average wage of $10.19 per hour — about $23,580 annually — food service and hospitality workers are among the lowest paid employees in the region, according to a 2015 BLS survey of 6,380 employees.

BLS also found that a higher proportion of Clatsop County residents are working minimum wage jobs, and are earning less overall, compared the rest of the Oregon workforce. In 2015, the average Clatsop County wage was $35,117 according to BLS. The median hourly wage was $15.24, more than $2 below the state average.

“About 1,200 people in Clatsop County worked at jobs that paid $9.25 per hour (Oregon’s minimum wage) or less during the third quarter (July-September) of 2015. This was roughly 6 percent of the total workforce that quarter. Statewide, about 5 percent of the workforce makes minimum wage or less. Approximately 2,400 people worked at jobs that paid $9.75 per hour or less (this includes the 1,200 who made minimum wage or less). This was close to 12 percent of the county’s workforce during those months,” said Erik Knoder, regional economist for Clatsop, Columbia, Lincoln and Tillamook counties, said in an email. This is likely due in part to the disproportionate number of people working minimum-wage positions, as well as changes to the employment landscape that are making these low-paying jobs more prevalent, Knoder said.

“In 1976, about 27 percent of Clatsop County’s jobs were in manufacturing. In 2014, only 12 percent of jobs were in that industry. Conversely, in 1976 about 12 percent of the county’s jobs were in accommodation and food services; in 2014, 24 percent were in leisure and hospitality.

New industries in computers, information, and telecommunications also came into existence, but most of these new and growing industries didn’t pay as well as the manufacturing jobs that the county lost,” Knoder said. He noted that in the third quarter of 2015, roughly 80 percent of the jobs that paid $9.25 per hour or less were food service, hospitality and retail. Wages for these jobs do tend to be higher in metropolitan areas, but still pay less than jobs in other sectors, Knoder said, so perceptions about the bad pay sometimes deter potential employees.

In July and August, an influx of students typically enters the regional workforce, with many taking seasonal positions in food and retail businesses. Some of these young seasonal workers, including 18-year-old Marc Jackson, are simply interested in making a little spending money.

Asked why he was seeking summer work, Jackson said he wanted “pocket money.” In late June, Jackson worked his first day at his summer job, maintaining the parking lot and greeting customers at Marsh’s Free Museum in Long Beach.

“I started a 9:30 a.m.,” said Jackson as he patrolled the perimeter of the parking lot, sweeping wrappers and cigarette butts and greeting new arrivals. There was no “Help wanted” sign in the window, but Jackson stopped in to inquire about work opportunites, and was rewarded with a job.

Students like Jackson are often a backbone of seasonal employment for food. hospitality and retail businesses along the coast. However, it can be tough for employers to keep them around, when the season ends or the work conditions get tough.

“We hire a lot of the high school kids, so in the summer, once they get out of school we’re OK. But before they get out, it’s harder to find seasonal workers that want to stay and want to work,” said Lois Roberts, co-owner of Hungry Harbor Grille in Long Beach, “You put your signs up and have lots of people coming in, but not a lot of committed ones.” Roberts has hired three seasonal staff, but typically likes to have about a dozen to complement five full-time employees.

“It’s a very intense job. There are people that come in and think they can do it, and then they’ll just walk out. We just had a kid the other day say ‘This is B.S.,’ and walk out. He was a great kid, but sometimes it’s just a little bit intense,” Roberts said. The sentiment was similar in Clatsop County.

In business since 2003, Peter Roscoe has noted noticed increasing turnover in recent years — a trend other local business owners have noticed too.

“I’m finding it difficult to maintain a full staff,” said Roscoe who typically employs around 15 full-time and a few seasonal staff at Fulio’s Pastaria Steakhouse and Deli on Commercial Street in Astoria. “It’s more of a struggle than it has been.”

“I talk to my restaurant peers and everybody says the same thing — everybody is struggling,” continued Roscoe, “I talked to a friend of mine down in Seaside and they were looking for seven people — they can’t find them.” The reason, according to Roscoe, is threefold.

“More restaurants, more venues and a limited workforce,” Roscoe said. Between 2012 and 2022, the number of jobs waiting tables in northern Oregon is expected to increase by about 11 percent, according to the Oregon Employment Department.

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