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"Help wanted” is a challenge all over

Three men work in a restaurants' kitchen making dough balls and laying them on a metal pan for baking.
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VPM News Focal Point
As life gets back to normal for many of us, business as usual is hindered by staffing shortages

As COVID becomes less of a concern, more people are trying to get back to their pre-pandemic activities. But staffing shortages are a persistent challenge. Businesses deal with too many job openings while some workers are retooling to go after jobs they want most.

ANGIE MILES: 28-year-old Salvadore Volo learned the art of cooking from his father.  

SALVADORE VOLO: I would sit on the shelf above the pizza station and just watch him make pizzas. And eventually just started making pizzas on my own. 

ANGIE MILES: In this very building? 

SALVADORE VOLO: Yep. In this very building 

ANGIE MILES: Anna's pizza in Warsaw is like a second home, one of the family's, many restaurant businesses, James Fogarty and wife, Francesca had been running things for the past four years, weathering the pandemic together.  

JAMES FOGARTY: My wife is from Sicily. So, Italy got affected really, really bad first. So, we kind of knew what was about to happen here. My father-in-law like stocked up on sanitizers and all kinds of stuff. Luckily, we were able to get a couple of different loans that we didn't fire any or lay off any of the employees were allowed to pay them hourly. And they just answered the phones, and we would do take out where they would come in or we would take it out curbside.” 

ANGIE MILES: Fogarty says Anna's worked with the town and Meals on Wheels to provide food for older residents. But as the pandemic has receded... 

JAMES FOGARTY: Staffing has been really bad.  

ANGIE MILES: Which makes Fogarty thankful for the staff he has. Everywhere unemployment is low and in Virginia, the workforce is growing. The state added more than 8000 people to payrolls in September, according to the Federal Reserve, which says there are three job openings for every person looking for employment in the state. Construction grew fastest, while hospitality employers like restaurants continue to lose employees. So where are all the workers?  

JAMES FOGARTY: People were pretty much getting paid. And I don't blame them. They're getting paid unemployment to not work. So that really affected us."  

ANGIE MILES: Throughout Warsaw restaurants report severe staffing shortages. Some like the daily might have shortened hours, or had staff work more hours to continue serving customers well. Some workers decided during the pandemic to just stay home, rather than pay for childcare and other costs of doing business. Some got by for a long time, on stimulus money or enhanced unemployment benefits. Others decided to make big changes in how they earn a living.  

JAMES FOGARTY: Virginia ready was created in June of 2020. Really looking at the employment disruption that was going on during the pandemic and what could be a solution. And one of those was to rapidly reskill or upskill Virginians for in demand jobs in health care, cybersecurity technology in the manufacturing and trades. They take a class through Virginia Community Colleges Fast Forward program." 

ANGIE MILES: To date, Virginia Ready has assisted more than 3000 Virginians and completing job training, paying each Virginia Ready scholar $1,000 for earning a certificate and connecting them with waiting employers. Some have become welders, others CDL credentialed truck drivers. Some scholars have entered the medical field. There are numerous different skilled labor opportunities. 

NATALIE FOSTER: We have business partners that are ready there to interview them for potential family sustaining wage and other opportunities are looming. President Biden's American rescue plan is working with states and localities to infuse billions of dollars into jobs and workforce development. 1.7 million of that is expected to yield 30 new jobs in Warsaw, Virginia, as the Richmond County Commerce Park expands just a few miles from Anna's pizza, where James Fogarty is sure that staff strapped restaurants will find a way forward.  

JAMES FOGARTY: People are definitely wanting to come and go out and they can't stay at home like mental wellbeing, right? So, people are going to still come out and eat. 

ANGIE MILES: Fogarty says he's always tried to pay staff well, but for now the most reliable workforce for restaurants, maybe those who see hospitality as a valued way of life. 


Angie Miles, Host/Producer, anchors and hosts VPM News Focal Point and special broadcasts.
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