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Just look around and you will see a help wanted sign here or there in most of Randolph County. The shortage of employees in 2021 is a drastic change from when COVID-19 raised its dreadful head in March 2020. Many Hoosiers found themselves out of work or forced to work from home. Many local businesses were affected by the mandate to close non-essential businesses which caused local unemployment levels to skyrocket to nearly 20%. Some could not recover and have had to close their doors permanently. Some have had to reduce their regular store hours until they feel they can fully bounce back from the pandemic’s effects. Some have reduced services such as dining in at restaurants due to lack of staff.

Fast forward one year, after coronavirus vaccines have been being distributed and officials have eased restrictions, local unemployment numbers are back to a pre-pandemic status. Earlier this week Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb announced that the federal unemployment benefits would cease on June 19, 2021. With these benefits some recipients were actually making more by being “unemployed” than they did when they were working their full time jobs. This measure caused it to be very difficult to get individuals to apply for employment.  Holcomb also announced that Hoosiers seeking unemployment benefits will be required to actively seek full-time work again starting June 1. The Indiana Department of Workforce Development had previously waived work-search requirements during the pandemic. Employers now hope that the many jobs that are open will become filled with employees needing to make up for the benefits loss in their household budget. 

Locally this announcement may mean good news for area businesses still struggling to fill positions. One of those restaurants who were forced to change gears is Bouser’s Barn in Union City. Keith and Susan Bousman have owned the iconic restaurant for 47 years. Keith states, “We have been blessed to be in business all these years. The last year has been a real challenge but we have worked through it.” In April 2020, the Bousmans made the tough decision to close the dining room and offer only drive thru service.  Drive by and you will see the line that wraps around the nearly 60 year old business as customers wait for the famous chicken and pizza because the dining room remains closed. Keith stated that their future plans are to reopen the dining room as soon as they find enough qualified staff to maintain the service that their customers have come to know and love. “Training can be time consuming but when you get the right employees it’s all worth it,” Bousman continued. “We are able to offer something to our employees that bigger or corporate owned companies cannot…flexibility,” claims Bousman. From high school kids who have after school activities to retired folks who just want 15-20 hours a week, Bouser’s Barn can accommodate everyone’s schedule. “I’ll be 69 in July and I don’t want to work in the same capacity as I am currently when I’m 80 but I would love to work forever,” Bousman said. “We encourage others to want to have the same feeling of accomplishment.”

Look on social media and you will see that there are other restaurants that are facing the same dilemma as Bouser’s Barn.  In the past week there have been various posts stating that restaurants are closing on slower days to give their staff a chance to rest. Meaning that a select group basically has been holding down the proverbial fort until the calvary comes back to work. The lack of staff also has a ripple effect.  Customers have become vocal on various social networks with their dissatisfaction with businesses and the quality of services they are offering. When you have less wait staff and kitchen help service becomes slower. With the fast paced society we are living in today, the “Patience is a virtue” old adage has went out the window and many patrons are seeking other alternatives to find better service. Many loyal patrons though have chose to keep giving the stressed businesses another chance noting they understand and realize its a struggle for all. 

Also struggling to find employees is Wick’s Pies. Tonya Fouse, Human Resource Specialist at the family owned and operated pie factory, said that it can be a struggle to find qualified candidates for jobs they are seeking to fill. Recently advertised open positions for Wick’s Pies have been for maintenance and clerical staff.  Fouse stated, “We have garnered great interest in these positions and are confident we will have them filled soon however.” Fouse continued,  “With an aging workforce, Wick’s Pies will continue to need employees in the future.  We can give the right person a great opportunity to advance within our company by offering good pay and excellent benefits.” 

Manufacturers in the area also are struggling to find employees. SilverTowne Mint, Ardagh, TOA, Wilbert Funeral Services, Frank Miller Lumber and CM Tech have all recently been seeking employees. SilverTowne Mint recently posted the opportunity to even get double time on all overtime worked. Some places offer sign-on bonuses to entice individuals to apply.

Others looking for employees range from the fields of daycare to construction and from area school systems to home care services. Locally owned Cobalt Civil is actively looking to hire 10 employees in a diverse capacity. Jennifer Housel, Human Resource Director, says the opportunity is a great one with their company. “From laborers to operators, we are seeking qualified employees that want to work hard. We offer a very competitive wage and a great benefits package that would allow the right person a great opportunity.”

According to Holcomb, there are currently 116,000 open jobs. Holcomb also stated, “We don’t need to keep the people on the sidelines who are otherwise ready and available to go back to work.” This is echoed at the local level as well.

In speaking with others hiring in the area, there are a few common denominators in getting the right people for the job. Simple things such as just showing up or being able to pass a drug test seem to be the biggest reasons employers continue to seek employees. One company stated that some employees last a couple of days and then they are gone and the hiring process starts all over again. Others state they cannot even get the person to start as the applicant cannot pass a drug test successfully.   

Now the spotlight turns to the next few months and the discontinuing of the current unemployment benefits. Will this have a sudden influx of people filling the open positions? Have people become accustomed to staying home? Have they have found other ways to cut their budgets so they don’t spend as much allowing them to not return to work? The answer remains to be seen.

One thing that was reiterated by all those we spoke to was that there are many opportunities all over Randolph County and there is a sure fit for everyone actively seeking employment. One just needs to apply.

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