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SLC business owner bringing in family, closing early to combat labor shortage

Posted at 5:33 PM, Nov 01, 2021

SALT LAKE CITY — The labor shortage continues to plague businesses across the Beehive State. A local Subway franchisee has been so desperate at times, she’s had to pull her family members in to keep up with hungry customers.

“I can see why a lot of people took early retirement, this is rough,” said Sharon Cockayne.

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Cockayne says in her two decades running a Subway near Salt Lake City International Airport, this is the hardest thing she’s been through.

She and other business owners across Utah all have the same question.

“Where is everybody, why are they not working?” asked Cockayne.

Cockayne is looking to hire three people and has been advertising online through and paying for those ads to be sponsored. Still, she says, she’s not getting any applicants.

She normally recruits kids in high school for these jobs, but her normal pool of teens isn’t applying.

“I don’t know if parents don’t want their high school kids working during the pandemic. I’ve brought my 16-year-old son in after pulling him out of school once, my boyfriend has come in to help me, it’s gotten to that point… it’s scary,” said Cockayne.

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Cockayne is even paying two dollars an hour more than she started paying a year ago.

“Nobody is getting that extra unemployment anymore; we still have a shortage and it’s just a mystery,” she said.

But senior economist Michael Jeanfreau with the Utah Department of Workforce Services says its complex, and it doesn’t just boil down to increasing wages

“I think we are facing a real labor shortage, it’s not simply people not wanting to work, although that is the common sentiment." Jeanfreau said. "There’s just a ton of opportunities and people want to grow.”

He does see the labor shortage as a long-term issue, but he says there are creative solutions.

“Automation could help, instead of that scary story we’ve heard for a long time that it’s gonna come in and take jobs, we need them, we have jobs to give away and not enough people to take them,” said Jeanfreau.

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Jeanfreau says those looking for a job right now have major leverage.

“Labor shortages sound scary because it’s scary for the average employer, but it’s great for the average citizen of Utah because it’s a time of huge opportunity. For most people they’re able to get the best value for their labor, and that’s the key for the American idea of capitalism,” added Jeanfreau.

Utah’s current unemployment rate is 2.4%, the second lowest in the country.

Jeanfreau says for minimum wage employers looking to hire, they have a small pool of candidates actively looking for work, and a disproportionate number of those with bachelor’s degrees in the market.