Looking for a job can be challenging, but so too is finding the right employee — especially in this day and age.
Employers want to find good help whenever they can find it, but it can be tough if there are not enough people applying for a job vacancy or they can’t find the right person.
Wyoming’s unemployment insurance claims have continued to decline over the past few months, which is a sign that things are starting to rebound after the initial countrywide shutdown for COVID-19.
The number of initial, or new, unemployment claims in Campbell County was 21 as of the week ending Aug. 26. The number of continued claims, or claims filed by people who had filed weeks prior and continue to file, was 173, which is the lowest it has been since the week ending March 21, 2020, just after the pandemic began when the number was 204.
Here’s another statistic: The county’s unemployment rate in July was 5.5%, which is down slightly from July 2019’s number of 5.7%, according to the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services.
With places and businesses open again and fewer people unemployed, it appears that things are getting back to normal.
But not so fast.
Balancing the work load
When The Local posts for open positions, it typically gets at least 10 applications within hours. It received only two responses to an ad it posted a couple of weeks ago.
“I am surprised,” owner Lacey Osborne said. “I usually don’t have a problem getting people hired or at least getting applications.”
She has been trying recently to replace a few employees who left to go to college.
She has eight employees and hopes to bring that figure up to 12. Otherwise, tough decisions will have to be made.
“If we don’t get more people, we will have to cut our hours short,” she said.
Employees already have had to adjust their shifts. For example, one person comes in at 7 a.m. and works until lunch before being replaced by another person who works until closing, which is at 5 p.m. Monday to Friday and 3 p.m. Saturday.
If no one is hired soon, then the restaurant may close at 3 p.m. every day. It would cut enough hours to eliminate a shift “so we can balance the work load better,” Osborne said.
The Local is not the only business that is considering changes to its operations because of the labor shortage.
‘We were sitting pretty good’
Many people traveling through Gillette stop by local restaurants to refuel themselves.
Anyone who wants to sit down and enjoy a burger and fries at Dairy Queen after a long day will need to order their food after 7 p.m. via drive-thru due to the labor shortage.
Restaurant manager Courtney Schanck said she is looking for people, especially high school students, to work the night shift that runs from 4 p.m. until closing.
“We were sitting pretty good for employees for a while until a few weeks ago,” she said. “We’re now getting to where I have enough adults for the day shift. I just can’t get teens over 16 to work.”
Schanck has employees who are 14 and 15 who work the day shift. The Fair Labor Standards Act states that teens at those ages can work up to three hours on a school day or 18 hours a week. But they cannot work between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m.
“The 14- and 15-year-olds want to work. We have plenty of those, more than I need,” she said, adding that not many 16-18-year-olds are applying, and “I have no idea why.”
Dairy Queen has been advertising on its reader board as well as online. But the restaurant has not received many applicants.
“Any time I get an application that shows they’re over the age of 16, I call them as fast as I can,” Schanck said,” adding that when they come down to request an application, “I grab them while they are there and do quick interviews or set up interviews.”
Dairy Queen has 45-50 employees, but Schanck would feel comfortable with a staff of about 60 people.
As a result of the shortage, on Aug. 26 the restaurant decided to close its lobby doors at 7 p.m., three hours before closing time, from Monday to Thursday. The drive-thru will remain open.
“From Friday to Sunday, I’m hoping I can have enough night shifts to keep it open until we close,” she said, adding that if she loses another night shift employee “then we’re looking at probably having to close the drive-thru at 9 p.m., so the whole store would be closed an hour earlier.”
Closing an hour earlier would hurt business a bit as would closing the lobby doors earlier, but that is only a small price to pay.
For Schanck, there are more important things to consider.
“I don’t want to overwork the crew that we do have,” she said. “To avoid that, we will take a loss in sales. It will be that way until I can get enough applications and I get new employees.
“I can’t ask staff to work more than what they are because school is their main priority. I have kids. I wouldn’t want their boss to ask them to work five days a week while doing school full-time. It’s not right. If I don’t want my kids being asked, I wouldn’t ask other people’s kids to do that just for the sake of business.”
‘Keeping them is the tough part’
Other local businesses like the Ramada Plaza have been more fortunate, though they have had their share of labor challenges as well.
The hotel furloughed employees during COVID a year ago and brought them back earlier in 2021 when things started picking back up.
It is now adequately staffed (25-30 employees overall) except for housekeeping.
The hotel has been advertising for housekeeping positions over the past three months across various internet sites.
People have come in for interviews, but a lot of them did not show up and “I don’t know why,” hotel manager Melissa Hannah said.
Some who got hired for a housekeeping position did not pan out because they didn’t really know what housekeeping entails, Hannah said, adding she helps with housekeeping sometimes.
“It’s a really hard job,” she said. “Once they start, they say, ‘I’m going to leave.’ That’s mainly our issue. We’re hiring people that don’t have experience and can’t handle the job. Some stay just weeks or for a few days. It’s not what they signed up for. They expected it would be an easy job. It’s a lot of work.”
The issue is not hiring people, Hannah said, it’s “keeping them is the tough part.”
Why the shortage?
There were 1,762 unemployed people in Campbell County in February. That figure dropped about 32.9% to 1,183 in July, according to the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services.
It means that while there are fewer unemployed people, business owners and managers have fewer options to choose from.
“In other words,” Wyoming Senior Economist David Bullard said, “there are fewer people out looking for jobs in Campbell County than earlier this year, and therefore employers have fewer people to choose from when they fill jobs.”
Nationally, there were 1.44 million job openings in the accommodation and food services industries in June, which is up about 9.2% from May, when there were 1.32 million vacancies, he said.
Bullard attributes the high amount of vacancies to low pay.
According to the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, the average weekly wage in Campbell County during the fourth quarter of 2020 was $1,171. The average wage in food services is $350.
Workers at The Local earn $8 an hour plus tips, which Osborne said equates to people making $18 an hour.
Food services is among the lowest paying industries in Campbell County, Bullard said, adding that “I should note that some of the differences in average weekly wages across industries simply reflect the number of hours worked in the different jobs.”
Osborne believes the federal unemployment benefits played a role in the labor shortage because jobs in the food industry tend to be high turnover. The benefits in Wyoming ended in June after Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon decided to end Wyoming’s participation in the unemployment programs.
“I recognize the challenges facing Wyoming employers, and I believe it’s critical for us to do what we can to encourage more hiring,” he said in a press release. “Federal unemployment programs have provided short-term relief for displaced and vulnerable workers at a tough time, but are now hindering the pace of our recovery. People want to work, and work is available.”
The federal programs are scheduled to end Saturday.
But not all businesses in Gillette are facing labor shortages.
‘We finally got full staff’
Main Bagel is finally back to full strength.
Twelve or 13 people now work for the business, but not long ago it only had eight or nine.
“I had people applying,” manager Chandra Shook said. “But of course, you had those people that would come in to work then call in all the time. They didn’t want to work at all.
“To be honest, I think people got lazy from sitting at home from the COVID,” she said.
Main Bagel did not have to cut hours and because it was short-staffed, employees worked overtime.
“We were paying a little more overtime than usual, but it didn’t cut into the bottom line,” Shook said. “We finally got full staff.”
‘We lucked out his go-around’
Some businesses have been fortunate to find new employees quickly.
Pat’s Hallmark in downtown Gillette employs five people, including its most recent hire.
Owner Karen Cook said she was concerned she may have had difficulties finding a new employee at the end of July.
Downtown business owners stopped in saying they were having trouble finding people to hire, she said.
“I thought then we would have an issue like everyone else and we better start posting to see if we get applicants,” Cook said, adding that she interviewed about 30 people before finding the right person who started Tuesday.
“We felt really lucky. We thought it might be a challenge,” she said. “We lucked out this go-around.”
Gambling sports fans in Wyoming are no longer required to bet through sketchy offshore websites to win, or lose, a quick buck.
The Wyoming Gaming Commission unanimously approved betting licenses for DraftKings and BetMGM on Wednesday during a special meeting in Casper. DraftKings went live about 23 minutes after the WGC meeting was dismissed, and BetMGM soon followed.
Wyoming became the 23rd state to have legal sports betting in additional to the District of Columbia, according to actionnetwork.com. Wyoming and Tennessee are the only two states to permit online-only sports betting.
Until now, the state hasn’t allowed gambling outside of tribal lands with the exception of some horse-racing events, according to the Jackson Hole News and Guide.
David Carpenter, project manager of sports wagering for the Wyoming Gaming Commission, expects more sports-betting companies to apply for a license in Wyoming in the coming weeks. With no limit on how many companies can virtually set up shop in the state, Carpenter said an ideal number would be around 20, similar to Colorado.
The initial fee for a company to apply for a five-year license is $100,000 and there is an annual renewal fee of $50,000, according to legalsportsreport.com. Wyoming will tax sports betting revenue at 10%.
The tax on sports betting revenue for other states ranges from as low as 6.75% in Nevada and as high as 51% in Rhode Island, according to the Jackson Hole News and Guide.
The first $300,000 made by the state each year will go to the Department of Health for programs intended to treat gambling addiction, Carpenter said. The remaining profit will go directly into Wyoming’s general fund to help fund schools and other projects across the state.
It’s important for the state to tap into new revenue streams with the uncertainty of the coal and gas industry, Carpenter said. He expects the state to make anywhere between $1.2 million to $3 million in the first year.
“I’ve spoken with legislators that have kind of given a ballpark of about $5 million in revenue every year,” Carpenter said. “Honestly, I thought it was going to be this bigger thing when I first got into this, but the way the equations kind of come down to it, there’s a very thin profit margin that they’re taking in as it is so it’s very volume based.”
Volume-based profit isn’t the best news for a state like Wyoming, the least-populated state in the country. But having online sports betting doesn’t cost the state anything and just is extra money coming, Carpenter said.
The Wyoming government took a free-market approach to the legalization of sports betting, meaning there are few restrictions on what bettors are able to wager on.
“We have a very broad catalog that literally covers anything you could possibly think of for the most part,” Carpenter said. “We have very limited restrictions, so you can bet on the University of Wyoming sports. It’s just very wide open and very free-market.
“I think we’re going to end up with a pretty good group (of sports books).”
But sports books are restricted from creating available bets for players to get hurt or arrested. Bettors are free to bet on professional and college sports, motorsports, boxing and practically any event that is considered a sport.
Legalizing sports betting brings Wyoming up to speed with the 22 other states and has created a new avenue for profit at the state level, Carpenter said.
“I’m excited about a new revenue stream for the state,” he said. “We need to start tapping into different resources and different ideas for revenues now, given the state of gas and coal here.”
Carpenter won’t be placing too many bets himself because it would be a conflict of interest, but he has plenty of friends who were excited to hear the news about legal sports betting coming to Wyoming.
“I think a lot of people are going to be real excited,” Carpenter said. “We have a University of Wyoming football game coming up on Saturday and there’s a really big golf tournament coming up (Thursday).
“I hope the excitement is quite broad, and it should be.”
Wyoming law will allow anyone over the age of 18 to participate in mobile betting, a difference from the 21-and-older law that many other states have implemented, according to the Jackson Hole News and Guide.
It didn’t take long for Wyoming to get sports betting off the ground in the state. Gov. Mark Gordon signed the bill of legalization of online sports wagering in April before approving the WGC’s final rules Tuesday.
Still for the many who worked to get sports betting live in Wyoming, Carpenter said Wednesday’s legalization felt like a long time coming.