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Hospitality industry struggling to hire workers, some offering incentives

Posted at 4:34 PM, May 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-11 19:12:53-04

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — As summer approaches, businesses in the hospitality industry are concerned about meeting customers' demands amidst a labor shortage.

Bluegrass Hospitality Association President Pam Avery said she'd be hard-pressed to find a single hotel, restaurant, bar, or other hospitality business that isn't looking for help.

"How bad is it? It's bad," Avery said.

She is also the general manager at the Embassy Suites Lexington Green and said she isn't asking for much. She's only looking to fill 10-12 positions right now but can't do it.

In fact, her front desk position has been open for two months. She said she usually gets 40 applications right away when it's posted. Instead, she has to work the front desk herself.

"My entire career I've never had a hard time getting people to work the front desk," she said as a 35-year veteran in the industry. "It's been a really big challenge so to say it's really bad is not overestimating it. I don't want to sound dramatic but it is a serious issue as we're getting close to the summer travel season."

She believes there are several reasons why workers aren't coming back to the hospitality industry, including the fact that they've gotten jobs in other industries.

"I think hospitality employees by and large are the hardest working people in America," she said. "They want to work. And so they've gone to work at the horse farms. They've gone to work at Amazon. They've gone to work at call centers where they can work at home."

In an effort to bring workers back, she said businesses are offering more incentives like higher wages. She also said there are discussions about how they can adapt to meet workers' desires for a better work-life balance by shifting schedules.

"As an industry, we're really having to grapple with 'How do we be more flexible? Do we hire more part-time people so we can accommodate more shifts?'" she questioned. "I don't know the answer. We're only really early into this. The reality of where we sit really only became apparent the last four weeks."

The Chief Operating Officer of the Kentucky Castle, Christie Eckerline, said she has also struggled to hire, specifically for entry-level positions.

"We have great responses for job postings but we will get people that schedule interviews then don't show up for them," she said. "We've even had people who fill out all the paperwork, do the onboarding, and don't show up for their job."

She said she thinks some workers might not be ready to come back to work for fear of being exposed to the virus. She also said unemployment benefits may be more attractive to some people than working.

"The way our government is doing it, it kind of incentivizes people not to work," she said. "I hate to think that. Of course, you wouldn't want to think that someone prefers to sit at home and get a check. So I certainly hope that's not the case."

She is hopeful that Kentucky's new work search requirement will shift the tides.

"I do think if anyone was taking advantage of the system, work search requirements would certainly help to discourage that," she said.

Over at LexLive, the hiring woes continue.

"It's been a big challenge for sure," Director of Operations Bruce Wren said.

Every week LexLive is hosting a job fair on Tuesday and Thursday from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. to fill all their open positions.

No matter the reason for the labor shortage, those in the hospitality industry are asking for patience from guests and customers as they work through this labor shortage.