Franklin County businesses struggle to find workers for service-related positions

REGION – “I do not know what to do. I have big signs in my store… I had three interviews last week, no one showed up. I don’t know what to do, ”Jon Bubier, owner of Ron’s Market in Farmington, said in a telephone interview on April 19.

Current employment opportunities in the Farmington area range from manufacturing positions at Origin, to substitute teachers and ed. technicians from Regional School Unit 9, customer service jobs at Ron’s Market, a food service position at Dugout Bar and Grill and various service positions at Walmart.

According to the Maine Department of Labor, jobs in the hospitality and recreation sector have been hit the hardest by the pandemic. Now that collection restrictions have eased, restaurants and bars are hiring again. Farmington’s Dugout Bar and Grill has had a full time position advertised for six months now. Andrea Swiedom / Franklin Journal

According to the Maine Department of Labor (DOL), March saw the biggest gain since September in non-farm jobs which are positions in goods, construction and manufacturing but exclude farm workers, private household workers and employees of non-profit organizations.

“The pace of the recovery picked up in March with the biggest job gains since September. Non-farm payroll employment increased from 4,100 to 609,600. Gains were concentrated in educational services (private and public K-12 and higher education) and recreation and hospitality, two sectors most affected by the pandemic. The changes in other sectors have been much more modest ”, DOL April 16 press release declared.

Despite those gains last month, Maine’s unemployment rate remained at 4.8%, where it has been since February. Some service sector jobs have returned as collection restrictions ease and domestic limits are expected to drop from 50% to 75% on May 24.

However, not all jobs will return with these changes. John Moore, owner of Narrow Gauge Cinemas in Farmington, explained that the lack of new films slated for release this summer has a direct impact on the number of positions available at the theater.

“We still haven’t recovered at the theater so we don’t need anything more than the backbone team so we’re lucky to be ready,” Moore said in a phone interview. “We have a very small team because we still have very little work. Therefore this is will not affect us as if some of these restaurants are launching. “

Meanwhile, other companies have added positions over the past year. Bee Line Cable and Broadband Solutions CEO Doug Allen has had to increase his staff as the pandemic presents more and more opportunities to connect homes to internet services.

“In this last year with the pandemic, we have literally been in thousands, thousands of homes. We have put together thousands of wireless routers, ”Allen said in a telephone interview. “We have increased our customer base by around 20%, which means I had to increase my staff by 20% and I am in the process ofcall more technicians. This is been crazy.

Allen said that while it was difficult to fill these additional positions because they require technical training, he was able to meet his staffing needs.

Original manufacturing based in Farmington and Wilton has also increased its workforce over the past year.

“The origin is growing exponentially every year, even in the current global economic climate. In 2020, during the pandemic, we increased by 53% and for 2021 our projections are for a further increase in employment of 50% and we are on the right track, ”said Amanda Roberts, COO, in an email.

With positions available, some local business owners report more than one struggle recently to even interview a candidate with candidates never showing up. In addition to Bubier at Ron’s Market, Dugout Bar and Grill owner Shaun Riggs also faced no-shows for a full-time position he had advertised for six months now.

Roberts has also noted this trend with job seekers lately.

“At the start of this year there were many applications with many qualified applicants, but we saw a drop in the second quarter,” she wrote. “In my last interview program, half of the applicants were not called / not introduced, which means applicants did not show up for scheduled interviews.”

Bubier said he couldn’t compete with unemployment benefits and the implications of a minimum wage increase.

“They raised the minimum to $ 12, they [workers] everyone wants $ 15 to $ 20 an hour, we can’t compete anymore. We cannot compete with unemployment, ”he said. “They pay them more to stay home than we can afford to pay them for work. And that’s really the bottom line, this is really frustrating.

Roberts said Origin noticed a connection in the ebb and flow of hiring with regulated incentives and stimulus packages, but always offered competitive salaries and benefits packages.

“Before the minimum wage increase, the starting wage at Origin was a dollar more than the minimum wage. Currently we start at $ 13.00 with a performance based pay increase schedule at 3, 6 and 12 months, ”Roberts wrote.

When it comes to minimum wage, Maine saw its smallest increase this year since 2017, from $ 12 / hour to $ 12.15 / hour. Tipping, service positions have gone from $ 6 / hour to $ 6.08 / hour.

“The modest increase of 15 cents in 2021 will help the minimum wage keep pace with the cost of living and preserve the minimum wage for minimum wage workers. According to a study conducted by MDOL in 2017, most workers in Maine earning minimum wage were aged 25 or older, and two-thirds were women. New version of MDOL said on September 21.

According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) living wage calculator, a person in Maine without dependents must earn at least $ 14.92 / hour to meet basic needs and maintain independence.

As for unemployment benefits, the federal pandemic unemployment benefit of $ 300 per week expired on March 31 and Maine Unemployment Benefit is capped at $ 462 per week, with the possibility of earning an additional $ 10 per dependent.

Recipients of unemployment benefits are again required to show proof of weekly job search activity, a requirement that was suspended earlier in the pandemic. The Maine DOL now has expanded this requirement include:

• Participation in a job fair / virtual job fair organized by a CareerCenter

• Participation in CareerCenter virtual re-employment services

• Participation in a CareerCenter virtual workshop

• Apply for a job for which you are reasonably qualified

• Interview for a job for which you are reasonably qualified

• Contact an employer to find out if the employer is hiring

• Participate in vocational training related to employment or skills development

• Attend networking events related to a job or profession for which you are reasonably qualified.

• To work part-time

In Franklin County, the civilian workforce is estimated at 14,147 and, as of March, 776 of those workers are unemployed, according to the MDOL.

Pandemic issues identified with unemployment include lack of child care, people who suddenly find themselves in caregiving roles and are unable to work due to health issues.

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