“We’re definitely seeing demand increase to over 2019 numbers, which is great,” McNamara said.
The not so good news? Staffing up to fully meet that increased demand has been difficult, McNamara said, and the end of the summer will only compound the situation.
“We’re losing several employees going off to college,” he said, noting he anticipates 12 departures between the restaurants in Roanoke and Grapevine.
“The next two months are going to be a big challenge for us.”
McNamara’s situation is not unique, as illustrated by “Now hiring” signs found throughout Keller, Roanoke and northeast Fort Worth. Even following Texas’ canceling of extended federal unemployment benefits in late June, employers are finding fierce competition for workers in what data suggests is a job-seeker’s job market.
The Texas Workforce Commission created WorkInTexas.com, and one of the platform’s features is providing localized snapshots of current demand for employees. It does this by comparing its unemployment data with the volume of job openings it tracks via online job postings, creating a value meant to roughly reflect the number of unemployed persons per job opening. In June, for example, the TWC estimated there were 295,519 job openings in the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington Metropolitan Statistical Area and 241,282 persons classified as unemployed within that same area—translating to roughly 0.82 persons available per opening.
The staffing challenges faced locally are not for lack of effort, either. On June 28, the Greater Keller Chamber of Commerce and the city of Keller partnered to hold Job Fest 2021. The event brought together job-seekers and 61 employers and led to several hirings, according to chamber President and CEO JoAnn Malone.
A little more than two weeks later, on July 15 in Irving, U.S. Rep. Beth Van Duyne, R-Irving, hosted the North Texas Job Fair. The event was regional in nature, but several local elected officials attended, including Keller Mayor Armin Mizani, Fort Worth Council Member Cary Moon and Roanoke Mayor Scooter Gierisch, who is general manager and partner at Roanoke Auto Supply LTD. and was one of the event’s biggest advocates.
“Our goal is to let this [job fair] be kind of a waterfall out to our cities,” Gierisch said the day of the event. “We’re all struggling. My business, I’m short on employees ... businesses that I serve are short on employees.”
Staffing challenges affect more than just businesses that are currently open, too. Mary Meier Culver, economic development director for the city of Keller, said it is also a consideration for businesses that are considering coming to Keller.
“Honestly, that’s always a conversation, when it comes to attraction [of new businesses],” Culver said. “That’s one of those No. 1 questions that a business or company is going to ask ... ‘What does your workforce look like?’”
According to Culver, challenges in staffing restaurants and retail for Keller predate the COVID-19 pandemic, in part because of the city’s relatively affluent socioeconomic demographics.
The challenges extend to public sector employers—many of which are limited in their ability to compete for employees by matching wages or bonuses being offered by private-sector competitors.
“We are mandated by our [City] Council what our budget is,” said Jennifer Oakes, manager of The Keller Pointe, a gym, fitness and aquatic facility that falls under the purview of the city of Keller. “Sometimes we just don’t have that flexibility to maybe pay someone an additional amount of money and compete with private businesses.”
Oakes said this summer has been more challenging than previous years, insofar as staffing, and The Keller Pointe’s services have suffered as a result. This has led, in some cases, to pool closures for members and long hours for employees.
“I have positions [open] that I haven’t received any applications for,” Oakes said. “So it’s a challenge.”
The changing power dynamics between job-seekers and employers are something Rodney Johnson, director of the Tarrant Small Business Development Center, said he has noticed, too.
“I do believe that, in one aspect, people are seeing that there are greater opportunities out there for them to go and make money,” Johnson said. “‘Take whatever you can get’ is not the order of the day. ‘I have options’ [is].”
As it stands, local employers will continue to find ways to do more with less—and to make their case for good people to join their teams.
“It is extremely difficult for those mom and pops, but if you leverage technology, if you have the [good workplace] culture, it’s not impossible,” McNamara said. “But I’m still scratching my head, needing 12 employees.”