Elsie Corass owns Elsie’s Egg Rolls, a Filipino restaurant in Hutto that opened in 2014 as a food truck and earlier this year moved into a brick-and-mortar location.

On Aug. 24, Corass said she closed her restaurant’s dining room after six of her 20 employees quit or had to take time off due to personal matters. The restaurant is again staffed sufficiently, but for a few weeks she said she was not able to hire enough people to keep both the kitchen and the dining room staffed.

Corass said she suspects the reason she was unable to find new employees for a period of time is because her $10 per hour starting pay cannot compete with the wages being offered by larger franchise businesses nearby.

“I got discouraged because the Dairy Queen pays $16 per hour,” Corass said. “I can’t do that. I’m just a mom and pop [restaurant].”

Corass is not the only area business owner who has been dealing with a staff shortage.

Louisiana Longhorn Cafe in Round Rock has had to modify its operating hours several times in the last few months when it did not have sufficient staff to remain open, and the Chick-fil-A at 18617 Limestone Commercial Drive in Pflugerville closed its dine-in and curbside services Aug. 23, citing staffing shortages.

Tamara Atkinson, CEO of Workforce Solutions Capital Area, an organization that provides training and support to job seekers in the nine counties surrounding Austin, said the COVID-19 pandemic has played a major role in creating staffing shortages, especially in dining and retail businesses.

Data from Workforce Solutions Rural Capital Area, a branch of WSCA, shows that from 2019-21, total job postings in Williamson County increased by 11.1%.

“There is a hunger for people to be able to get back out safely into communities, and that means that there is a push for face-to-face jobs in hospitality and restaurants,” Atkinson said.

Businesses that were previously operating at reduced capacity have struggled to meet this surge in patronage, especially as many former employees feel unsafe returning to work or have moved on to other jobs, according to Atkinson.

While many companies in the area continue to struggle with not being fully staffed, other business owners said they think they have found a solution.

Local honey producer and distributor Round Rock Honey CEO Konrad Bouffard said he recently had to let go three of its five core employees after they refused to comply with the company’s vaccination requirement.

Bouffard said he was able to restaff the open positions within a few months by researching other companies’ starting pay and offering applicants compensation and benefits that were competitive.••“I was a little concerned that people wouldn’t apply ... but I didn’t find that to be the case at all,” Bouffard said. “I found that a lot of people were applying, and there were several qualified people in there. I see this kind of feeding frenzy mentality among a lot of people that are looking for work, like, ‘I’m going to try and take advantage of the times as they are now to get as much money as I can as quickly as I can.’”

Food and retail are far from the only industries affected, and Atkinson said trades that require more technical training—manufacturing and commercial driving, for example—are facing significant staffing shortages.

From teachers to bus drivers, Hutto ISD is short-staffed throughout its many departments, Superintendent Celina Estrada Thomas said.

Capital Metro has reduced the frequency of many of its routes due to lack of drivers, and waste disposal companies are aggressively seeking to fill open driver positions, according to previous reporting from •Community Impact Newspaper•.

Some waste disposal companies, such as Central Texas Refuse and Texas Disposal Systems, are offering sign-on bonuses as high as $8,000 for experienced commercial drivers, said Central Texas Refuse representative Tammy Young.

However, data shows issues related to the pandemic and pay are not the only drivers of recent and ongoing staffing shortages.

Projections from Workforce Solutions show that over the next decade Austin’s most in-demand trade and manufacturing occupations will be short nearly 3,000 skilled workers. For health care occupations, it be over 4,300, and for tech jobs it will be more than 8,000.

Atkinson said the primary reason for this trend is a disparity between skills potential employees possess and skills employers are seeking, which is a direct result of a lack of accessible training.

"We do expect that there will continue to be a strong demand for jobs and workers with certain skills, and without proper training of local residents, there will continue to be a mismatch,” Atkinson said.

Young identified a similar problem, calling attention to a pervasive perception that trade jobs are inferior to those requiring a college degree.

“One of the things that I think has contributed to us being where we are today is that we have emphasized sending kids to college and de-emphasized the value of skilled trades,” Young said.

As companies such as Samsung and Kval move into the area, bringing almost 1,900 jobs to the Hutto-Taylor area between the two of them in the next five years, the demand for trade jobs should continue to grow, according to Diane Tackett, chief operating officer of Workforce Solutions Rural Capital Area.

Tackett said she encourages those seeking jobs to reach out to Workforce Solutions to help connect them to resources for training and support.

“I think as people see more opportunity available and more support available to be able to accept an offer of employment, they’ll move more quickly into those positions,” Tackett said.