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How North Bay employers are seeking to fill ‘help wanted’ void in the pandemic economy

Candidates wanted, the incentives

Here is a sample of job offerings available in the North Bay in August with incentives:

• Howard Station Café in Occidental: Needs line cooks, paying $25 to $35/hour, with a signing bonus.

• Indoor Media, Santa Rosa: Sales representatives would receive a $2,500 singing bonus.

• Wilco Farm Store, Petaluma: $2,000 signing bonus for pet groomer.

• Moore Home Services, Santa Rosa: $20,000 signing bonus for plumbers.

• Meadows of Napa Valley, Napa: $3,000 welcome bonus for certified nursing assistant/medical aide; $3,000 signing bonus for licensed vocational nurse and registered nurses.

• Athleta, Napa: $250 cash bonus.

• Sequoia Grove Winery, Napa: $1,000 hiring incentive for guest relations coordinator.

• John Owens Services, San Rafael/Santa Rosa: $1,500 cash bonus after six months of employment, with another $1,500 after one year.

• Bicycle Brustop, Novato: Signing bonus of $500 to $1,000 for team players.

• Simonton Windows and Doors, Vacaville: $8,000 bonus for immediate hires.

• Valle Smiles, Fairfield: $2,000 bonus for dental hygienists.

• Total Safety, Fairfield: $2,000 sign-on bonus for warehouse associate.

Sources: Craigslist, Indeed and LinkedIn

Whatever the latest turn with the pandemic, the near universal opinion from people in business today is they need more employees.

“It’s been almost impossible to hire anyone. We have been trying probably for the last four or five months. We have been dumping money into staffing agencies, all different kinds of websites, anything we can get our hands on. There are no takers,” Hannah Smith with Blue Ribbon Cleaning Services in Rohnert Park said.

The Sonoma County company is offering a $3,000 hiring bonus for house cleaners, and this summer raised its base rate for cleaners by $2 an hour to $17. With enough staff, it is losing business. To make it worse, Smith said she has success getting people to apply, then some never make it to their interview, while others show up for a shift or two and then don’t come back.

Broad spectrum of businesses need workers

James Benjamin, president of Shaw Plumbing in Calistoga, has rethought who he wants to hire.

“I have moved to hiring younger kids. Maybe they were doing maintenance at a winery and I can train them properly, how I want them trained; whereas experienced (workers) have a different mindset,” Benjamin said.

This isn’t the first time the Napa Valley business owner has implemented this strategy, admitting workers with him for a decade had come to the company lacking experience.

Downtown Napa Association President Allison Hallum said she has heard from an array of business owners that they are having difficulty filling positions.

“I think everyone is paying higher base wages, and if they can afford to, giving bonuses,” she said.

Hallum owns three restaurants in Napa: Eiko’s, Eiko’s Oxbow and Napa Noodles.

“I have thought about closing one or two days in week. I know others have because there are not enough employees and because of burnout.”

She added, “I spend most of my day looking for employees. I’m nervous that they could shut us down again so I don’t want to be overstaffed either.”

To compensate, because her people are working double shifts because of the staffing shortage, the sushi restaurant closes midday for a few hours to give them a breather.

The way Osprey Seafood in Napa has attracted workers is by promoting flexibility instead of long hours.

“We spun our ad saying great pay, great schedule, great work-life balance,” Culinary Director Kelsey Coulsen said. “We are trying to get people who are passionate about food. We get a lot of people from restaurants.”

This approach worked. Right now Osprey Seafood is fully staffed.

At Hand and Stone Massage and Facial in San Rafael, the company could use a handful more sales reps. Its sales staff makes an hourly rate plus commission. At the first of the year the base pay for sales associates went up $3 an hour to $18.

“The main issue is getting the interviewees to show up,” explained Larnice Mitchell, manager trainee at the Marin County business. She said people apply, she sets up an interview, and then that person bails without even calling.

Marin Coffee Roasters, which has locations in Novato, Ignacio and San Anselmo, also has had issues during the hiring process.

“Some have no-showed, some have come with tank tops and look like they had a rough night,” owner Tami Mock said of interviewees.

To try to get qualified employees Mock offers incentives to current workers if they refer someone who is then hired.

Hilary Touey, human resources manager at V3 Electric in Fairfield, said, “We have started posting our jobs in some platforms than we have not done before to widen the net. Typically, we just used Indeed. We started using LinkedIn, and we get a lot of traffic on Facebook.”

Bacchus & Venus Wines in Sausalito has a small staff at its tasting room—one person working full time and two part time, with the desire to add one more full-timer, and one part-timer.

Owner Todd Wheeler wants people to stay once they come on board. To do he is considering revamping the compensation package.

“The big thing I’m doing is looking at benefits. In the last couple of days I’ve been looking at implementing a 401(k) plan. I’m looking at any benefit I can add that make my jobs look more attractive,” Wheeler said. He’s also promoting flexible schedules.

In the last 45 days, Ultragenyx Pharmaceutical in Novato has brought on 80 people. This is in part to fill new positions and to replace those who have left the Marin County firm.

The job market for the biopharmaceutical market, especially in the Bay Area, had been tight long before COVID-19 hit. That is one reason why Ultragenyx created a policy to allow workers to stay remote if their job allows for it or only go to the office on a part-time basis.

Candidates wanted, the incentives

Here is a sample of job offerings available in the North Bay in August with incentives:

• Howard Station Café in Occidental: Needs line cooks, paying $25 to $35/hour, with a signing bonus.

• Indoor Media, Santa Rosa: Sales representatives would receive a $2,500 singing bonus.

• Wilco Farm Store, Petaluma: $2,000 signing bonus for pet groomer.

• Moore Home Services, Santa Rosa: $20,000 signing bonus for plumbers.

• Meadows of Napa Valley, Napa: $3,000 welcome bonus for certified nursing assistant/medical aide; $3,000 signing bonus for licensed vocational nurse and registered nurses.

• Athleta, Napa: $250 cash bonus.

• Sequoia Grove Winery, Napa: $1,000 hiring incentive for guest relations coordinator.

• John Owens Services, San Rafael/Santa Rosa: $1,500 cash bonus after six months of employment, with another $1,500 after one year.

• Bicycle Brustop, Novato: Signing bonus of $500 to $1,000 for team players.

• Simonton Windows and Doors, Vacaville: $8,000 bonus for immediate hires.

• Valle Smiles, Fairfield: $2,000 bonus for dental hygienists.

• Total Safety, Fairfield: $2,000 sign-on bonus for warehouse associate.

Sources: Craigslist, Indeed and LinkedIn

“It’s a competitive field out there to find really great candidates, but having a more formal structure around remote and flex work is certainly helping us,” spokesman Joshua Higa told the Business Journal.

Another thing the company does, which Higa said is normal throughout the industry, is offer most new hires cash, stock options, restricted stock or a combination of the three.

Editor’s Note: A photo caption with this story was updated to include the names of the people pictured.

Looking at the numbers

By the numbers

The UC Berkeley Labor Center, which has been collecting data about the effects of the pandemic on workers in California and how the state is recovering, in August released the following information:

• Compared to the nation as a whole, California lost a greater proportion of jobs during the pandemic. As of June 2021, the state had recovered half of these job losses.

• California’s economy is still a long way from fully recovering.

• Lowest paid workers accounted for 80% of jobs lost nationally.

• Employment for high-wage workers is higher now than before the pandemic.

• California has accounted for most of the job gains nationwide over the last four months.

• While employment in the private sector is beginning to recover, employment in the public sector is largely stagnant, especially for local governments.

• As the pandemic began, the portion of the population either working or looking for work in California decreased substantially compared to the United States as a whole.

• Early into the state’s recovery, hundreds of thousands of workers remain on the sidelines.

Source: UC Berkeley Labor Center

While bigger companies can more easily raise hourly rates (Southwest Airlines, Costco and Walmart are upping pay to at least $15/hour), it is more difficult for smaller entities (of which most employers are in the North Bay) to do the same and still be in the black when all the paychecks have been written.

California’s minimum is $14 for employers with 26 or more workers and $13 for businesses with less than 26 employees, so most companies in the state are nearly on par with the big guys.

In its latest update on the effects of the pandemic on the California job market, the UC Berkeley Labor Center reports, “As people return to work, the overall number of unemployed has come down, but, increasingly, most of those who remain unemployed are workers who have been out of work for six months or longer. (T)he decline in unemployment is due in part to workers dropping out of the labor market altogether, as opposed to increasing number of jobs.”

The report also states that most of those who left the job market had a high school education or less, and they continue to be on the sidelines.

Nationwide the leisure and hospitality industry has been known to provide the lowest wages. This is a large component of the jobs available in the North Bay.

Why does the shortage exist?

Businesses are finding themselves in unfamiliar territory with not having enough workers.

“This is something new that we have never experienced. It’s not just California. Everyone is looking for employees,” Sausalito Chamber of Commerce CEO/President Juli Vieira told the Business Journal. “People are not applying for jobs. I’m not sure if it is EDD and all the government checks and assistance, or if people are not ready to go back because of COVID and not being vaccinated, or they have moved out of the area. Maybe there is less work force in our area. We are all trying to figure it out.”

In the first week in August when 12 chambers in Marin County combined to hold a job fair 42 businesses participated, but only 63 potential job seekers attended. .

For people who believe the reason there are no workers is because of the federal government’s supplemental $300 a week in unemployment benefits, the theory will be proven when the benefits expire the first week of September.

“Since the pandemic they have gotten all this free money. You just have to show you are looking for work. You can apply for four jobs so it looks like you are looking and still receive a government check. Why go to work when you can still survive?” asked Mock with Marin Coffee Roasters.

She had some college-age workers at the height of the pandemic because they were home going to school remotely. Some of them are leaving, thus creating vacancies.

Other of her employees, though, are having a hard time after 18 months of being on the front line, so they are leaving, Mock said.

“I think the biggest thing for our shops is mental stability and money is the second,” she said. It’s being masked, dealing with rude customers, keeping up with county and state mandates, and being scared about catching the deadly virus.

At V3 Electric it’s a much different scenario for why employees are hard to get and retain.

“We are seeing an upset in the solar industry. There is a lot of competition from different solar companies. It’s kind of a fun time,” Touey said. “There has been a big shakeup now particularly in sales with headhunters and (firms) hiring away from other companies.

“We could take 100 more sales reps. We have the ability to scale up or down in operations based on how many sales reps we have.”

When more people were staying homes “clogging up things,” Calistoga business owner Benjamin at Shaw Plumbing needed to make sure he had enough qualified people on the payroll.

The problem, he said, “(Is) not a lot of people want to work in the trades anymore because it’s hard work.”

TSC Tractor Supply in American Canyon store manager Michael Lemonds is confident there are people out there looking for entry level positions. But he’s also pragmatic.

“It is an applicants’ market. There are not as many people in the marketplace so they have the ability to pick and choose,” Lemonds said. “We have had a higher turnover because they can leave at will if they get something else.”

Express Employment Professionals in San Rafael is in the business of providing employees to various companies. Recruiter Diana Hernandez said the agency is having a hard time finding people who want to go back to work.

“We have realized this new generation doesn’t know much about staffing companies so that is a problem,” Hernandez said.

The firm has gained 10 clients since the state reopened in mid-June. Jobs are mostly at retirement facilities, warehouses, property management and for janitorial services.

“I don’t know if it’s unemployment anymore,” Hallum, with the Downtown Napa Association, said of why openings go unfilled. “I think people are having a hard time finding child care, people are changing industries, they are going back to school.”

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