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The challenges of recruiting and retaining staff, despite Wisconsin's relatively low unemployment rate

Now hiring sign at Manhattan Mocha
Posted at 9:19 AM, Mar 22, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-22 10:19:03-04

It's no secret that businesses are struggling to hire and retain staff right now. Some call it a "worker shortage."

Wisconsin's unemployment rate is sitting at about 3 percent, according to Wisconsin's Department of Workforce Development (DWD). That's lower than the national average of roughly 4 percent reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and much lower than the state's record high of 14.8 percent back in April 2020, at the height of the pandemic.

During that time, many businesses were closing and many employees who rely on tips were looking for new work as people stayed home to avoid getting sick.

"Initially it was a bit more dicey, but now people are returning to work. There's money to be made, I guess," said Sam Klowski, a server at Ma Fischer's on Milwaukee's East Side.

Klowski is happy to see things returning to normal. He said turnover in the industry was a challenge amid the pandemic.

"When there's less people coming out to eat, there's less money to be made for servers," said Klowski.

Down the street at Discourse Coffee Workshop, partner Olivia Molter says relying on tips is not easy.

"During the pandemic as traffic and business ebbs and flows, it's not always consistent," said Molter.

She said baristas from all over the area are leaving their jobs at coffee shops with hopes to work for Discourse.

Part of the reason why, she said, is because of competitive wages and full-time work that can't be found at small shops in town.

"A lot of times, they are leaving places that can only offer part-time work, they are leaving places where the money they are making is only livable when tips are made," said Molter.

Over at Dogtopia, owner Julie Barnes is having incredible success attracting new workers.

Barnes said she has received upwards of 250 applicants for two jobs in the past two months.

She says the success may be because people are leaving jobs they're bored with to find something they are more passionate about.

"People love dogs, it's a very common ground for a lot of individuals, and so it's just an attractive job because it's different," said Barnes.

She also talked about the amount of training she offers and about a required job shadow that applicants complete before being hired as reasons for strong retention.

Her location helps recruit talent, too.

"Many of our employees don't have to worry about driving to work, with gas being so expensive, because we have a lot of people who walk or have a very short commute," said Barnes.

All things to consider as employees sit "in the driver's seat," of the current labor market.

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