A “Now Hiring” sign is posted in the window of Sweet Island Creamery and Elaine’s Bagels in downtown Rochester.

A “Now Hiring” sign is posted in the window of Sweet Island Creamery and Elaine’s Bagels in downtown Rochester.

Photo by Mary Beth Almond

Now hiring: businesses struggle to find employees during COVID-19

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published October 27, 2020


ROCHESTER/ROCHESTER HILLS/OAKLAND TOWNSHIP — Keeping businesses staffed during COVID-19 isn’t as easy as one might think.

“There’s not a business in town that doesn’t have a hiring sign out in front of it,” said Brian Willoughby, of Willoughby’s Beyond Juice in downtown Rochester.

Willoughby, like many other local merchants, has struggled to keep his store staffed this year due to COVID-19.

“It’s been an issue ever since the whole COVID-19 thing started. We closed in March (when the stay-at-home order was put in place), and I think we opened back up in May (when it was lifted), and we’ve been looking for employees ever since,” he explained.

With many local colleges — like Oakland University and Rochester University — starting the school year with remote or virtual learning, Willoughby said his typical influx of college staffers have not come to town this fall, draining the hiring pool.

Willoughby was able to add some high school students to the payroll for a few months while they completed remote learning, but with the recent return to in-person class for many schools, he’s back at square one.

“We’re in the process of pulling our hours back because we actually just lost three employees this week, with Rochester High School going back to in-person,” he said. “We’ve been advertising on social media, word of mouth, we’ve got a sign out front, we’ve been even asking customers who randomly walk in to purchase, we ask them if they know anybody who’s looking for a job who’s a college or high school student. We’re not even getting applications. Nobody wants to work,” he said.

A parade of “Now Hiring” signs are affixed to the windows of many other downtown businesses — including Sweet Island Creamery and Elaine’s Bagels; Hibachi House; and Zoet, a Belgian waffles and chocolate shop.

Dianne Elnicky, of Sole Sisters, had to wait 2 1/2 months before she was able to hire a part-time fashion consultant.

“I’m sure a lot of it has to do with COVID-19,” she said. “There are signs everywhere, and all of my reps said that all of their retailers are going through the same thing. It’s very difficult to find somebody. I’m sure many people don’t feel comfortable working in a retail setting, and they’re still getting more unemployment, so that’s a lot of it, too,” she said.

Many more businesses outside of the downtown are also looking to hire — including the new Gardner White in Rochester Hills, as well as Starbucks, Claire’s, Whole Foods and Moosejaw in the Village of Rochester Hills.

Across the state, there’s a shortage of direct care workers due to the pandemic, which officials from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services say has also created significant staffing demands for licensed long-term care organizations throughout Michigan.

“Michigan currently has a direct care worker shortage of 34,000,” Dr. Alexis Travis, the department’s senior deputy director of its Aging and Adult Services Agency, said in a statement.

The MDHHS is partnering with the Detroit Area Agency on Aging, the Area Agency on Aging 1-B and Reliance Community Care Partners to implement a $3.9 million project funded through the CARES Act that offers retention payments to newly hired direct care workers. The goal is to hire and retain at least 2,000 new workers — those who have not worked as a direct care worker in home- and community-based services for at least 60 days before the date of hire — by Dec. 30. Workers could receive up to $1,600 if they complete training and 300 hours of work by Dec. 30.

The need for skilled workers is also on the rise, according to Oakland County officials.

Companies in search of skilled employees can apply for a share of $27 million in funding, thanks to the Going PRO Talent Fund grant program offered by the state of Michigan’s Talent Investment Agency. The funds enable businesses to provide training to new and existing employees in advanced manufacturing, software programming, construction trades and robotic operations; allow current workers to expand their skills; and create opportunities for registered apprenticeships for new employees. To qualify, Oakland County Michigan Works! staff said the training must be short-term and lead to a credentialed, industry-recognized skill enhancement. The grant application window opens Nov. 2 and closes at 5 p.m. Nov. 30 at OaklandCountyMIWorks.com.

“This funding comes at a critical time for our residents and businesses, given the impact COVID-19 continues to have in our business community and in our lives,” Oakland County Executive David Coulter said in a statement.

Oakland County Michigan Works! — which operates service centers in Novi, Oak Park, Pontiac, Southfield, Troy and Waterford — assists more than 3,000 employers seeking assistance with talent recruitment, apprenticeship programs, job fairs, candidate pre-screening, hiring and training support, layoff support, and labor market data. The service centers also assist more than 105,000 job seekers annually with career coaching, interviewing and job search workshops, placement assistance, training courses, and job trend information.  

For more information, visit OaklandCountyMIWorks.com or call (800) 285-9675.