The Employee Surge That Didn’t Happen

Our last article covered the employment phenomenon known as “The Great Resignation” or “The Big Quit.” To gain insights, we conducted an employer survey from January 31 through April 15. More than 100 businesses in Contra Costa and surrounding counties responded, revealing to us that:

  • Businesses need workers: 59% are currently trying to fill 1-5 positions
  • Business are expanding: 56% are planning to create 1-5 new jobs in 2022, and 14% are considering 20+ new jobs
  • Employers anticipate minimal, if any, layoffs: 90% do not plan any layoffs in 2022, while 7% are unsure
  • Referrals and employment websites are popular: The top two methods for finding candidates are referrals (64% of respondents use this method) and employment websites (61%).
  • Good skills are hard to come by: Employers have difficulty finding employees with hard skills (27%) and soft skills (28%) , with 45% of respondents listing specific skills needed.

To help understand the stories behind numbers, we reached out to two businesses in industries mentioned multiple times in the survey – health care and restaurant. These owners shared their take on the local employment landscape and their strategies to attract and retain quality employees.

We talked to Johana Segura, owner of 24/7 Nightingale Home Care, which offers personal care assistance to people in their homes. Segura, who launched the business in 2019, is a licensed vocational nurse with almost two decades of experience with in-home care.

Her industry is growing, as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a nationwide 33% increase in demand for home health aides over the next 10 years. Locally, the Employment Development Department estimates that by 2028, the East Bay will have 3,980 job openings for home health aides, a 13% increase from 2018.

Along with this growth, Segura is experiencing a shortage of workers.

“I thought that once the unemployment benefits [related to COVID-19] ran out we would see a surge of applicants, but it didn’t happen,” she said.

Segura is starting to receive more applications but not nearly enough to cover the tremendous demand. She reported a lack of responsible workers, explaining that younger employees sometimes don’t show up for work or even call.

“That’s not tolerable in our industry,” she said. “If a staff member doesn’t show up, that client might not get a meal or get out of bed.”

Conversely, older workers are more loyal, valuing employers who value them equally.

To find solid employees, Segura relies on word of mouth. She uses online platforms such as Indeed and job fairs but says her best new employees come from existing employees and others in her circle. Employees get a referral bonus, money that Segura says is “by far my best investment.”

To retain her existing employees, Segura works hard to treat them well. She is as flexible as possible with schedules, provides raises and maintains open lines of communication. The business owner also offers benefits: In 2021, she launched supplemental insurance to all employees, and in recent weeks she extended medical, dental and vision insurance coverage to all full-time employees.

Segura estimates that if she had the staff to meet demand, her business could double in growth.

Kevin Weinberg, chef and co-owner of Walnut Creek Yacht Club (along with partner Ellen McCarty) explained the worker dilemma this way:

“The labor pool used to be shallow, but now there’s just nothing in it,” he said.

In April, Weinberg reported that his downtown eatery could hire four more employees in the back of the house (the kitchen) and three in the front serving customers. However, he couldn’t find anyone.

“Everyone is aware of the problem, and no one has a solution,” Weinberg said.

Like Segura, he has difficulty hiring employees and described a typical scenario: “We post openings on numerous online sites and try to extend interviews. Mostly you don’t even get a reply. When you try to schedule an interview, you usually never hear from them. But if you do get the interview, they likely won’t show up. And if they do show up, you are already stretching the limits of what would be an acceptable employee, just because you need help.”

To find candidates, Weinberg posts open positions on Craigslist, Indeed and hospitality job site Poached. With a referral bonus program, the referring employee and new hire each get $100 if the new employee stays for six weeks.

To entice and retain employees, he keeps wages competitive (much higher than before COVID-19, he says), offers free meals and extends flexible schedules as often as possible. The National Restaurant Association recommends similar tactics with “5 ways to woo workers.”

Employee troubles affect business volume at Walnut Creek Yacht Club, which celebrates 25 years in 2022. Weinberg and McCarty control daily business by the number of employees who show up. They value their hardworking, long-term employees and are not willing to place extra pressure on them to increase volume.

“We are not willing to sacrifice quality or stress out our employees, so we’ll close our reservations book or turn people away at the door,” he said. A specific example of lost business is Mother’s Day 2022. While his restaurant is usually closed on Sundays, they open on Mother’s Day, typically restaurants’ busiest day of the year. Unfortunately, they couldn’t staff the day this year, so doors remained closed.

Weinberg commented that his establishment’s current situation is worse than during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, if that seems possible.

“Before we could do a little bit of business and got help with the Paycheck Protection Program and Restaurant Revitalization Fund,” he said. “Now we can seat at full capacity, but we can’t take the volume of business that we should because of staffing. Plus, assistance is gone.”

Employers like Segura and Weinberg are just two examples of employers coming up with creative ways to attract workers. If you need help talking through ways to recruit workers, the Workforce Development Board of Contra Costa County offers a full complement of business services for finding, training and retaining skilled workers. Email us at or call us at (925) 671-4560.

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