Newsmaker: Another ‘pandemic’? Local businesses struggle to find staff

This week’s featured development as Newsmaker of the week is revelation that major companies in Jamaica are struggling to fill vacancies.

This is largely due to workers’ reluctance to return to lost jobs at the start of the coronavirus pandemic for the same levels of compensation.

The issue of Jamaica’s labor shortage was highlighted in April this year when Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced that Jamaica may be forced to import skilled workers as the country is facing a shortage of such workers, especially in sectors. construction and tourism.

A heated debate ensued for weeks, with various stakeholders criticizing Holness’s position suggesting that it is not necessary to import labor, but rather that training be enhanced by institutions such as HEART NSTA / Trust.

On the other hand, however, the coronavirus pandemic has impacted the local job market, with many people choosing to pursue entrepreneurship, looking for work in other profitable sectors such as the business processing outsourcing (BPO) sector. or turn to work programs abroad.

However, the BPO sector, despite taking some employees from traditional sectors, including tourism and fast-service restaurants (QSR), is still facing employee shortages in some operational areas.

This week, both Thalia Lyn, head of Island Grill, and Phillip Ramson, chief executive of Chas E Ramson, said they are adjusting their salary packages to attract and retain employees.

“We’re having a problem trying to find people filling all the restaurants and you can tell all the QSRs (fast service restaurants) are having that problem,” Lyn revealed on Tuesday.

Thalia Lyn, head of Island Grill

Lyn, who spoke during the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce’s second-quarter business confidence webinar, said her company’s headcount fell from 900 when COVID-19 hit in March 2020 to “600 and more.” at the height of the pandemic.

“We have finally reached maybe 90%, but we still need people now. We find it really hard to find people who really want to work, ”Lyn pointed out.

According to her, Island Grill offers “good benefits” and is committed to paying livable wages.

Admitting that it’s hard to keep up with rising inflation, Lyn said the company has always assisted with meals and tracked staff transportation costs.

“We make it (pay) based on performance, so if you come to work on time and you’re not always sick or absent and we have levels of (worker) benefits,” he indicated.

According to its website, there are 15 Island Grill restaurants locally.

Ramson agreed with Lyn, stating that “finding skilled labor is a challenge”.

Ramson attributed the labor shortage, in part, to the growth of the tourism industries and business process outsourcing.

“Also, I think people are demanding more because the cost of living has increased dramatically and people aren’t willing to work for what they were working for before the pandemic. As entrepreneurs, we need to tailor our packages to reflect employee needs, ”said Ramson.

“Just to get to and from work and to provide lunch for the day, these are things we need to look into, and this is something we will struggle with for the foreseeable future,” he added.

Chas E Ramson, founded 100 years ago, is one of Jamaica’s long-standing food distribution companies.
But the phenomenon of employee shortages is also occurring in several countries, including the United States.

This disclosure was made by Don Anderson, CEO of Market Research Services.

Chief Executive Officer of Market Research Services Don Anderson

He highlighted that in the international arena, workers who lost their jobs during the pandemic have been reluctant to return to those jobs with the same pay.

“A lot of those workers are trying something entrepreneurial instead of going back to those jobs,” Anderson said.

Two weeks ago, Holness again weighed the discussion on labor issues at the local level.

While indicating that Jamaica is approaching full employment, he said this result will have implications for several local industries.

“We are now at 6% unemployment, and this is getting closer and closer to full employment, but full employment in the Jamaican context has many other implications and I already know the tourism sector is suffering,” Holness said.

He was speaking at the official opening of the ROK Hotel during a tour of the facility in downtown Kingston at the time.

According to Holness, various industries currently require employees and the government is aware of this reality.

However, he explained that in the context of Jamaica, many of its citizens are not yet part of the workforce.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness

“It is not the case that every single healthy and capable Jamaican is employed. That is not the case. What is the case is that only six percent of Jamaicans who have offered themselves to the job market are out of work,” he reasoned. .

“… But there is still a significant number who are not formally in the workforce. Some of them are not properly trained and some of them have just decided they are not participating,” added Holness.

To address this persistent problem, the prime minister said the government will continue its efforts to attract more people to the formal workforce.

“We need them (people) to sustain the ongoing growth and support the continued growth of the construction sector, the continued growth in the tourism and hospitality sector, the continued growth in the BPO sector, on which other sectors will grow and add to our diversity, “Holness said at the time.

Also adding to this point, he pointed out the recent pattern from the Statistical Office of Jamaica (STATIN) that the island’s economy grew 6.4% in the first quarter of this year.

Holness said it is an indication that, despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and the implications of the war in Ukraine, the local economy continues to function well and more investments are needed locally.

Between the island’s economic growth, the historically low unemployment rate and the demand for more investment, Jamaican entrepreneurs are wondering where workers will come from to fill the ever-growing list of vacancies.

Social media users also added their perspectives to the raging discussion, arguing, in part, that business owners are to blame, as they have not raised salaries for their employees, especially in the context of rising inflation and increased cost of food.

“These people (business owners) expect workers to work long hours with little money and minimal benefits. Sigh, that’s the result,” wrote Annmarie Hunter, a Facebook user.

Sheldon Reid shared, “Well, after two years of lockdown and restrictions, people have found other ways to make money.”

Another user of the platform, Sophia Johnson, wrote: “Glad to see this day.

“This is due to the way some of these employers treat workers. From evil must come good. Thank God for COVID. You employers must cash out, cook, serve and then clean up … These actuals entrepreneurs just want to make money for themselves.

“Those workers who have found better alternatives, remember to put aside the rainy days, (and) pay taxes because the school and the hospital cannot function without money and the other priorities in the country that require money,” he said. Johnson.

Another social media user, Phyllis Sutherland, said based on her own assessment that many sectors, including construction, BPO and tourism, are struggling to get workers like restaurants and food distribution companies.

According to her, there are several “hiring signs all over the place”, as well as many job vacancies posted on websites such as Caribbean Jobs.

“(This) shows that some people who are unemployed or too lazy or just adore alms. It is better to go to work with your little money than to get up every day begging and wait to rob those who work for theirs. honest bread, “said Sutherland.

Alvin Reid added his opinion on labor issues.

“Blaming the Internet and social media. All that young people care about nowadays is being social media influencers. Everyone blames journalists and can even pass language arts inna GSAT!” she commented.

To companies complaining about their plight in filling vacancies, Allison Johnson advised, “Nobody no waa dem deh work deh weh underpays people and makes people work ridiculous hours.

“Repair the package and make it more attractive,” he urged.

Sonya LadyLee Allen also advised: “Give employees better wages for long hours and some perks … The days of slavery are not liked!”

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