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Some Lexington businesses struggling to fill open job positions

Posted at 12:26 AM, May 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-22 00:26:24-04

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — Kentucky’s unemployment rate is going down, but the state is still not back to pre-pandemic levels.

Yet, some businesses are working overtime to fill available positions.

Brian Behr owns Bear & The Butcher and Postmaster’s Pub. He said both of his restaurants are hiring, and they have been for months.

“It’s been tough to get fully staffed,” Behr said. “I’ve heard that everyone is having trouble, but I didn’t think it’d be this hard.”

Behr said he expected some employees would not return following the pandemic shutdowns and COVID-19 restrictions. However, as the state has opened up and business has ramped up, the number of applicants has not been proportional to what he anticipated.

“In the past, I’ve had plenty of applications to go through and pick and choose,” he said. “The people I have right now are working 45 to 50 hours a week, and that’s pretty maxed out for them. So, I need to find more people.”

Behr said he would like to expand hours at his newest restaurant, Postmaster’s Pub, but that won’t be possible until he can hire more people.

Behr’s businesses are not the only ones putting up ‘Now Hiring’ signs around Lexington.

Job promotions can be found at all types of businesses, including gas stations, shops, grocery stores, and restaurants.

Dr. Michael Clark, Director of UK’s Center for Business and Economic Research, explained the economic trend is being felt across the nation for several reasons.

According to Clark, the problem does not stem from a shortage of available workers, but rather is a result of a change in work conditions and standards.

Clark cited health concerns as one reason why businesses may be struggling to hire.

“Even though vaccination rates have increased, and the spread of COVID-19 has slowed dramatically, there still may be some health concerns among some potential workers,” Clark said.

Issues finding childcare is another reason, according to Clark.

“If they don’t have good childcare options, they may be less likely to search for work,” Clark said.

Lastly, many are getting paid more in unemployment benefits than they would earn working in-person, which Clark said can create an incentive for them to avoid searching for work.

“When employers are finding it hard to attract workers, they'll have to look at the compensation packages that they're offering,” Clark said.

And many are doing exactly that.

Some employers are offering starting pay several dollars above minimum wage, but the challenge of getting people to apply still stands.

“I would expect over the next few months we’ll continue to see a gradual improvement, that gradual trend to where we were prior to the pandemic, but it may take time for us to get there,” Clark said.