Isabelle Francis, 15, of Sterling Heights, says she has worked at Urban Air for the past three or four months.

Isabelle Francis, 15, of Sterling Heights, says she has worked at Urban Air for the past three or four months.

Photo by Deb Jacques


Businesses, experts note struggle to find, hire workers

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published June 21, 2021

 Urban Air Adventure Park General Manager Crystal Gutc conducts a meeting June 14. The adventure park has been looking to hire more staff.

Urban Air Adventure Park General Manager Crystal Gutc conducts a meeting June 14. The adventure park has been looking to hire more staff.

Photo by Deb Jacques

Advertisement

STERLING HEIGHTS — Many restaurants have long awaited the state of Michigan’s removal of coronavirus-related restrictions, such as mask requirements for unvaccinated people and a 50% indoor dining capacity limit. And on June 17, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced a quicker end date — June 22, instead of July 1 — to state masking and indoor capacity restrictions.

But Jack Erdman, the general manager of Roger’s Roost in Sterling Heights, has another challenge: acquiring enough staff members to operate at full capacity when it’s lawful to do so. He said June 16 that, if he were able to have all tables open, the current lack of staff would probably lead to customers having to wait in line.

“We’re running really light. It’s why we can’t run to full capacity even after the July 1 deadline,” he said. “It’s a new issue that we have. … We’re declining business just because I don’t want to give bad service.”

Erdman said he is fortunate to be at the restaurant because of the close-knit nature of the staff. However, he said it’s been hard to keep staff members in some of the pantry-level positions.

“I could double the amount of kitchen members,” he said.

Recent news reports have detailed the pinch many businesses nationwide are experiencing when it comes to hiring, staffing and filling jobs. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ jobs reports have recently fallen short of expectations. Experts expected the April report to show an estimated 1 million nonfarm payroll jobs added. Instead, the number totaled around 266,000, later revised to 278,000. In the May report, jobs again fell short of analysts’ expectations but by a smaller margin: 559,000 jobs added compared to an expected 650,000 or more.

On June 9, the finance website WalletHub revealed its study of U.S. states and concluded that Michigan was the ninth-worst state when it came to jobs. Michigan reportedly ranked 23rd for average commute time, 25th for unemployment rate, 26th for job opportunities, 40th for employment growth, 41st for job satisfaction and 48th for per-capita positive COVID-19 tests in the week prior.

Local observers of the Sterling Heights business scene agree that the current situation is tough. Sterling Heights Senior Economic Development Adviser Luke Bonner summed up his views in a text message: “All industries are struggling to find workers.”

When asked how local businesses are managing the labor shortages felt elsewhere, Sterling Heights Regional Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Stacy Ziarko said she expects the slowness of hiring to be a problem “for all of our businesses for a while, especially our service industries.”

“We hear from our restaurants of the change in hours or not being able to accommodate larger parties or later evenings because they just don’t have the manpower,” she explained.

Ziarko believes that the labor shortage started becoming an issue for both manufacturing and retail shortly after the initial March 2020 COVID-19 shutdown. She attributed this to a number of factors: the enhanced unemployment benefits; precarious child care situations; and uncertainty with schooling and children’s summer activities.

She added that she has watched businesses become creative with ways to entice new hires, including signing or referral bonuses.  

“I don’t think you can go anywhere and not see a ‘help wanted’ sign,” she said.

Ziarko added that the chamber has tried to help equip its members through the Sterling Heights chamber’s job bank, the Macomb County Job Fair, the Macomb Community College job bank and other resources to find and acquire talent in the community.

Wes Ayar, the co-owner of Urban Air Adventure Park in Sterling Heights, said his activity center had roughly 130 staff members prior to the pandemic, which was enough to properly serve guests and give them a great experience. However, since the facility reopened with limited capacity restrictions in December, the business has been unable to obtain a staff larger than around 80 people at a time, he said.

Even though his business hasn’t been running at 100% capacity, he still said it’s “tough to run the business properly without the proper people to do it.” And as restrictions are being lifted more, and the long summer hours are here, his challenge is to keep hiring and make it possible to be open to the public as it demands. Jobs are available in the cafe, the front desk, attractions, sanitation and birthday party hosting, he said.

“We’re looking for everything except general manager,” Ayar said. “We’re willing to bring on any person who is willing to join our team.”

To increase the odds of finding help, Ayar said, Urban Air is tapping into its immediate employee base and is offering team members incentives via a referral program. If employees refer their friends and families to join the staff, they can earn bonuses the longer the new hires stay with the company, Ayar said.

Find out more about the Sterling Heights Regional Chamber of Commerce by visiting www.shrcci.com or by calling (586) 731-5400. Learn more about Urban Air Adventure Park, 12050 Hall Road in Sterling Heights, by visiting Urba nairparks.com or by calling (586) 822-2122. Find out more about Roger’s Roost, 33626 Schoenherr Road in Sterling Heights, by calling (586) 979-7550.

Advertisement