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16,000 unfilled jobs in Utah leaves local businesses in tough bind

Posted at 10:19 PM, Sep 01, 2021

SALT LAKE CITY — Despite the busy holiday weekend ahead, Little Dogs Resort and Salon in Salt Lake City won't be anywhere near full capacity.

Owner and CEO Jennifer McMurrough said they can accommodate 70 dogs, but they had to cap it at 38 this weekend.

They have more than enough customers, but only a fraction of their normal staff.

"We normally have about 18 employees this time of year," she explained. "This year, I have six amazing employees."

Whether it's the 'help wanted' signs in windows or sheets of paper on the front door announcing reduced hours, Utahns have probably noticed the staff shortage many businesses in the state are dealing with.

Little Dogs Resort is one of them. McMurrough described how she's tried and tried to fill those 12 open spots. One of the positions is even a high-level general manager career posting that McMurrough said pays well.

She's paid thousands of dollars in job listing website memberships, and even brought a recruiter in to find candidates.

None of it has been successful.

"Everything we know how to do in terms of hiring, doesn't work right now," she said.

The biggest problem with the whole process?

"People will apply, and not show up for interviews," McMurrough said.

Ken Williams, owner of Storage Steals and Daily Deals in Murray knows all about that. The warehouse sells liquidated inventory from big box stores, and auctions off inventory they purchase from Friends of MS donation bins.

Williams said they have a loyal customer base and are just about to head into their busy holiday season. He's posted jobs on Indeed, ZipRecruiter, and Facebook. He's tried to spread the word in other ways as well.

"I probably had seven people over a week contact me, and I don't think any of them actually made it to an interview," he said.

While most people never explained why they were no-shows, Williams did find out from one person that Storage Steals and Daily Deals is facing tough competition against other businesses that are also hiring.

"I had one this last week that said, 'I actually just got a job and I'm not going to come to the interview,'" he recounted.

According to the Department of Workforce Services, 43,500 Utahns were unemployed as of the latest July numbers.

That puts the state's unemployment rate at 2.6 percent, which is on par with pre-pandemic unemployment numbers.

In that time, the number of jobs has continued to grow across the state.

Mark Knold, Chief Economist at the Department of Workforce Services said in an August 20 Unemployment Report voice recording for July 2021 that when all the jobs opened back up after the pandemic shut-downs, the labor force was slow to respond to the rush.

"We estimate that when the Utah economy fully reopened, there was largely a 34,000 worker difference between what the economy wanted to employ, and what the labor market was willing-- or should we say, not willing-- to supply," he said, in the voice recording.

While the labor market has become more active in the months since, Knold said there's still a gap of about 16,000 workers. He said it could take three months or more for that gap to close.

"The Utah labor market is responding, and is stepping forward to help the Utah economy grow," he said.
While businesses fight for a limited pool of available workers, Williams is hoping he can hire just three more people in the coming weeks (anyone interested can find more info to apply here.)

For McMurrough, the difficulty in hiring is hurting her bottom line (apply for her open positions here).

She explained that she's looking at revenue losses worse than what she saw during the pandemic shutdown.

McMurrough has tried to brainstorm what could help. She has ideas, like a state or federal government-offered sign-on bonus for people who enter the job market. Or perhaps, she indicated, a tax break or other hiring incentives to get that labor market more active.

"It keeps me up at night, it does. And I worry about the amazing staff that I have right, now and burning them out," she said. "At some point, it's not sustainable. Something's going to have to give."