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'You do the best you can': Businesses across Northeast Ohio struggle to fill seasonal workers

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Posted at 7:28 AM, Apr 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-27 07:58:05-04

SHELBY, Ohio — If you live in Richland County, you probably know about Paul’s Drive In. It’s a staple in the Shelby community.

“Paul’s Drive In has been around since 1956. We’ve been a family-owned business,” said Gabriel Lash, the restaurant manager. “It’s just a down-to-earth, great place to get ice cream and food.”

Every January, the family-owned business re-opens for the season, and while last season was tough with COVID-19 in full swing, this season the door has been swinging open nonstop.

“This year with the weather being so great we are doing record-breaking sales earlier than ever. People are ready to get out of their house and get some ice cream, I guess because we’ve been swamped here,” said Lash.

But the problem is the number of workers they have is at a record low.

“We’re having a little bit of difficulty, lately, finding employees and applicants,” he said.

Lash said, typically, they have around 40 to 50 workers every season, but this season they have about half.

“The other day, we had several call-offs and no-call shows, you just don’t have anyone else to come in, so you just do the best you can,” he said.

A majority of their workers are in high school.

“It’s a great opportunity for them to get a head start on life and work ethic,” said Lash.

But training all those workers at the same time presents another challenge.

“Our ticket times are longer and it’s harder to get things out, sometimes,” he said.

From Richland County to Cuyahoga County, finding seasonal workers is tough.

Cleveland Metroparks will not be bringing Edgewater Live or Euclid Live back this summer. Also, Merwin’s Wharf will close after Mother’s Day until late summer and there will not be concessions offered at Hinckley Spillway or Euclid Beach due to lack of workers.

"While we continue to promote employment opportunities across the Park District, hundreds of full-time positions remain unfilled at this time. Without additional staff support, our summer dining, concessions and more will remain impacted. We are hiring at all levels to support food service operations from full-time managers to cooks and bartenders. Please apply or help share our employment opportunities []." said CEO Brian M. Zimmerman in a statement.

Frank Brickner with Ohio Means Jobs helps place employers with eligible employees, but he said there’s not many people willing to go out in the workforce right now. Some of it is due to COVID-19 fears, lack of childcare and people getting by on unemployment.

“They’re getting unemployment and, maybe, it’s more profitable than taking a temporary, seasonal job. We have many employers coming to us saying ‘We need help,” he said.

Last year in Cuyahoga County the group placed more than 3,000 people with employers, this year Brickner said they’ve placed about half of that.

Lash said with four new hires in just the last couple of days, he is optimistic they’ll have a successful season but asks for patience.

“Once those kids are trained, it’s going to be great,” he said. “It’s just a matter of getting trained and good and ready.”