Sunday, September 26, 2021
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Hiring woes continue, but report offers encouraging signs

by Daily Inter Lake
| September 5, 2021 12:00 AM

This Labor Day we honor the American worker and celebrate the symbolic end of summer — and what a summer it has been for the valley’s frontline employees.

After yet another whirlwind tourist season — combined with a stubborn nationwide labor crunch — service industry workers head into this extended weekend exhausted and reeling, and in need of some much-deserved R and R.

“Now hiring” signs hang in nearly every restaurant window and business owners across all service sectors are left wondering, “Where did all the workers go?” There is no easy answer to that burning question, but there are encouraging signs in Montana’s recent labor report.

Flathead County added more jobs in July than any other Montana county, with growth in the leisure sector particularly strong. The latest report shows 51,517 people in the county’s workforce, continuing a five-month trend of positive job growth. The Flathead unemployment rate is at 3.4%, below the statewide average of 3.6%, and below the national average of 5.4%.

Gov. Greg Gianforte described the continuing job gains as good news for Montana workers and employers who are still looking to hire.

To be sure, the worker shortage remains a serious challenge for local businesses. State data shows that Flathead County still has more than 1,300 job openings. The bulk of those vacancies, not surprisingly, are in the frontline service sectors and health care.

Statewide, there are more than 15,000 job openings — fewer than the pandemic peak, but still far greater than pre-Covid levels.

Industry experts say the ongoing hiring woes can’t be attributed to a single factor. Local hiring obstacles include the prevalence of remote work opportunities here and afar, along with a shortage of affordable housing options. Potential workers also remain reluctant to return to the workplace due to child-care costs and availability, while some older workers remain concerned about the surging delta variant and are choosing to stay on the sideline or enter early retirement.

Thankfully, the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce recently spearheaded a new working group that is tasked with analyzing the child-care conundrum, and we look forward to learning more about their recommendations in this important report.

Other local groups, meanwhile, are tackling the workforce housing issues that have pushed some workers out of the area, and kept others from moving here.

There’s no doubt that Covid changed everything about America’s workforce and it’s going to take more time for the turbulence to settle. Businesses will have to continue to be creative and generous with hiring tactics — and that’s not a bad thing.

In the meantime, we should all take a moment this weekend to thank a local grocery clerk, restaurant server or anyone in the service and hospitality sectors who deserves praise for their outstanding efforts over the last four chaotic months. A generous tip wouldn’t hurt, either.

Hopefully they get a few moments during this changing in the seasons to catch their breath and regroup before the next wave hits. Summer 2022 is just around the corner.