The labor shortage in the North Bay has continued to grapple employers this year. Wage increases not keeping up with inflation continues to be a driving factor, as is the lack of affordable and available housing — exacerbated in Sonoma County by the loss of thousands of homes resulting from October 2017’s wildfires.
The construction sector is faced with the double-whammy of struggling to house the workers needed to rebuild homes lost in the fires.
Area winegrowers entered the post-fires 2018 harvest season competing for workers from the construction and cannabis industries, according to the Press Democrat. Some have raised wages; others are turning to technology to replace workers.
“The challenge for most industries is to find workers in entry level or lower-wage positions, such as retail, hospitality and restaurants, due to the high cost of living in the North Bay,” said Brenda Gilchrist, co-founder of The HR Matrix LLC, a human resources consulting firm in Santa Rosa.
The hospitality sector’s need for lower-income workers hasn’t eased, plaguing an industry that largely supports the economic engine of the region: tourism. These workers can’t afford to live in the area, and those driving in from farther away often tire of commuting long distances.
The labor shortage, however, hasn’t stifled employers from working toward solutions that aim to bring more workers to the area.
“One of the things we are doing as a company is we are underwriting a program in Marin County that will take high school seniors and teach them the trade,” Mike Ghilotti, president and owner of San Rafael-based Ghilotti Bros. Inc., said at the Business Journal’s CEO Roundtable event in November. The program, called the North Bay Construction Corps, is taught by local industry professionals and includes hands-on learning, a boot camp and a good chance of getting hired upon completion.
The Workforce Alliance of the North Bay has taken a similar approach to overcoming the labor shortage. The organization works with local businesses in multiple industries to customize services to match employers’ training needs, said Bruce Wilson, executive director of the alliance.
“One such program the Hospitality Industry Partnership created is ‘Resort to Opportunity,’ where two hotels created internships for 12 high-school students to learn all areas of hospitality,” Wilson said. As a result of the training, both participating Napa hotels — Meritage Resort & Spa and Silverado Resort & Spa — hired all of the students at the end of the internship.
“We have a market that is very much an employee-driven market and not an employer-driven market,” Joe Madigan, 14-year CEO of recruiting and staffing firm Nelson, said at the CEO Roundtable event. “So I encourage everyone to relook at what they’re doing for their employees.”
Big North Bay business stories of 2018
This is one of 10 recaps of major changes for or impacts on commerce in Sonoma, Solano, Marin, Napa, Mendocino and Lake counties this year.