Mike Williamson is looking for a few good people. But he isn’t finding them.

“Forget qualified candidates. I’m having a hard time even getting applications,” said the operations manager of Solomon’s Seafood in Washington. “The market in our business is super bad. People should be looking for jobs.”

In many instances, apparently, they are not.

Williamson and most of the other area business owners and operators contacted by the Observer-Reporter say they have jobs available, but too few would-be candidates are responding to the plethora of “help wanted” signs and online job postings that are up.

There is a pandemic raging, to be sure. But with Pennsylvania’s prevailing unemployment rate – 7.3% in January – this appears to be a classic case of supply (jobs) exceeding demand (job seekers).

Williamson, second-generation operator of a family business, is looking for employees for his Hall Avenue restaurant, especially now that indoor dining restrictions have been loosened. He would prefer experienced people in certain positions, but not all. He is certainly reaching out.

“I have no problem getting high school kids to apply,” Williamson said. “We may look hard for a bartender, people who cook, servers – people who have done this for a living – and are really having difficulties getting them.

“If I said we were going to open at 100% tomorrow, we would not have enough employees.”

One reason for this quandary is obvious. On-the-job exposure to COVID-19 can be deadly, causing some to avoid a work environment.

Respondents for this article, however, listed several other reasons: receiving federal stimulus payments and/or unemployment compensation benefits – some extended into September – may quash the incentive to work; candidates set up a job interview, to fulfill an obligation to “actively seek work,” then skip the interview; some skip drug tests.

“Getting extra money is not an incentive to work,” Williamson said. “When things were bad, I got it. But I’m convinced that is a problem now.”

Civil Knox, general manager and marketing director at Washington Crown Center, agrees. “Our tenants are hiring but are short staffed,” she said from the mall offices in North Franklin Township. “It’s because there’s free money out there. You keep giving free money, why work? It’s beyond sad.

“We have applications in abundance and no takers.”

“People don’t want to work if they’re getting government money,” said Ron Smith, operations manager at Uniontown Mall. “We can’t get employees.”

He said that in several instances, members of the management team have set up an interview with a candidate, who then skipped the interview. One applicant hung up when he called to set up a time.

“We may not pay a large salary, but we offer steady employment,” Smith said.

He added that the mall had hiring challenges before the pandemic as well.

“A lot (of applicants) couldn’t pass the drug test and we didn’t hear from them again.”

David Lamatrice, owner of Bistecca Steakhouse and Wine Bar, said his restaurant in the Meadows Racetrack & Casino “was blessed until recently. We had all of our staff back.

“Recently, we looked to add staff, but have had difficulty getting people to apply. We’ve had a problem with people who were to show up for an interview, but don’t, after fulfilling (a UC) requirement (to seek work). I think some people are happy to get their unemployment and make it last.

“I’m OK training people if they’re willing work, but some want $25 an hour without experience.”

Barchemy LLC operates in Donora Industrial Park. The company manufactures high-protein, low-sugar foods, and is hiring and expanding. It is constructing a third building there.

“We have opportunities to grow,” said Georgia Perry, the company controller.

She said Barchemy is hiring, and posts jobs on Indeed.com, “but we’re not finding people who are going to Indeed or even looking for jobs. We’re not getting the tracking as we used to, and we’re one of highest paying manufacturers in the park with good benefits.”

Charles German is not well versed in the machinations of Southwestern Pennsylvania, but plans to be. He will be moving his firm, Holland Cutting Board Co., from Michigan to Brownsville.

German is a descendant of the Brown family that founded the borough, where he is seriously considering a property that would house additional shops and “be fully operational by February 2022.”

He advertised for jobs on Facebook and was gratified “to fill 95% of them, all residents of Brownsville.”

Business Writer

Rick Shrum joined the Observer-Reporter as a reporter in 2012, after serving as a section editor, sports reporter and copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rick has won eight individual writing awards, including two Golden Quills.

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