At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of people experienced job loss at an unprecedented rate. Furloughs and lay-offs were sweeping through countless industries and affecting everything from small businesses to the largest corporations. As the world began to open back up (at varying levels of speed and comfort), the hope was that everything could go back to business as usual. Businesses just need to find employees.

The summer of 2020 saw many businesses open back up as infection rates went down and created a lot of new jobs due to the non-existence of those jobs during the spring. New hire rates dramatically declined in the fall and have only recently seen a healthy jump in Oct. of 2021.

The employee shortage has been an issue as everyone has been navigating through the pandemic. The University of Wisconsin-Stout and the surrounding community is no different. Various services across campus have been altered or removed altogether. 

The Harvey Hall Express has yet to open back up since students were sent home after spring break in March 2020. Food offerings in the Memorial Student Center only recently started to get closer to what was offered pre-pandemic. A lot of these issues are tied to various sources such as supply chain issues, but a lack of workers also plays a role. 

The surrounding community has been coping with a lack of workers as well, particularly in the food and beverage industry. 

“The restaurants near us have gone through a tougher time than we have,” Mike Tarr, owner of Mike’s Art & Design Supply, said. 

Many of the restaurants in the Stout community have struggled to get back to being fully operational as the pandemic has slowly started fading. Issues with hiring new employees play a big role in that.

“With a smaller staff than we are used to, we’ve had to scale back. We haven’t been able to open for brunch and we have been closing earlier,” Kristin Schenck, owner of Log Jam Bar and Eatery, said.

Not everyone is struggling to offer good experiences considering the shortage. The Raw Deal coffee shop downtown has struggled to find new employees but still feels comfortable offering the best service it can. 

“The pandemic has made it harder to find new employees, but we’ve always ran with a dedicated skeleton crew so it hasn’t affected how we run as much as others,” Maria Lewis, operations manager for Raw Deal, said.

The pandemic itself plays a big role in some potential employees’ decision to find other options. The beginning of the pandemic brought awareness to some of the more unsafe and unfair conditions that many workers face in various industries, especially in the service industry. Many have been reluctant to return to higher risk environments as waves of the pandemic come in and out. 

Other businesses have had little issues getting workers, but due to different circumstances, still see others in the community struggling.

“We have a smaller crew here that is primarily students who only need part-time hours. There are other businesses who have more workers that rely on a full-time paycheck to make ends meet,” Tarr said.

Even while facing these challenges, local businesses are still working hard to provide their customers with valuable experiences.

“We have had to limit brunch hours and even scale back the menu… Our main focus is providing the best experience we can for the customer so getting that order out on time and providing great service is our focus,” Shane Lehman, manager and cook at The Silver Dollar, said.

Even with all the problems that are being created by employee shortage, some understand that they aren’t alone. Navigating the issues that come with being short-staffed has its challenges, but businesses are doing the best they can with what they are being given. 

Schenk still feels gratitude for where they are. “We are very fortunate here. There are other businesses that are struggling more than we are. I’m grateful for the tight-knit crew we have here, and we are all making the best of a tough situation.