New Orleans-area businesses finding workers in short supply, despite higher wages

Published: Sep. 20, 2022 at 6:38 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Gerard Trentacoste, who manages the Elizabeth’s clothing store on Metairie Road, said finding the latest fashions and accessories or the customers to buy them isn’t the shop’s biggest issue.

He says it is a shortage of workers.

“It’s been very difficult to find people that are qualified, that are willing to work during this time after COVID, because everybody is looking for help,” Trentacoste said.

Two years after the COVID-19 pandemic began, the labor shortage in the New Orleans area and elsewhere continues.

“I don’t understand. What are these people doing that aren’t working? Where are they getting funds? How are they living?” Trentacoste asked.

The worker shortage is widespread, according to Jerry Bologna, president and CEO of the Jefferson Parish Economic Development Commission in Avondale.

“That continues to be the No. 1 issue for our businesses, really of any size and across any industry,” Bologna said. “The economy in Jefferson Parish is doing amazingly well. Our sales taxes are up, which are an indicator that our retail businesses, our hospitality businesses are strong. But they’re suffering from a lack of employees.

“My peers across the country are all scratching their heads. They’re all facing the same thing.”

At Express Employment Professionals in New Orleans, agency owner Chris Carden said his staff is doing all it can to attract job applicants.

“What we’re finding is that we’re having to make our application process much easier than ever before,” he said. “We’re making sure to contact every single person that applies with us over the phone, so we’ve got that personal connection with each person. But it has certainly been a challenge to get people in.”

Carden said employers need both skilled and unskilled workers, and are more willing to train new hires.

“They’re just looking for people that are dependable, people that have the right work ethic, so they’re loosening up on their requirements as far as experience goes,” Carden said.

The U.S. jobless rate is at 3.7 percent.

“While the unemployment rate is low, there are fewer people looking for jobs, and that’s the troubling trend,” Bologna said.

Pay has crept higher for many positions, as employers try to attract more staffers.

“Certainly, our employers have raised wages,” Bologna said. “We’ve seen that across the board. But that hasn’t solved the problem as of yet.”

Carden also said most of his clients have increased wages, and some have improved benefits.

“Businesses have been forced to not only increase wages but offer more benefits, more attractive benefits, more flexibility in scheduling,” Bologna said.

The scarcity of workers can put more pressure on existing employees and business owners.

“Working more hours,” Trentacoste said. “Just the two of us are working 12- and 16-hour days some days, depending on the merchandise and customer flow. Because we get lots of customers walking through these doors, and that’s our main priority, to take care of our customers.”

Bologna said JEDCO has taken steps to help the employment picture.

“One of the things we’ve been doing is really increasing our linkages with the education community,” he said. “Not only the higher-ed community, but increasingly the public school system. To improve apprenticeships and other types of programs, to start filling these needs in a quicker way.”

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