Help Wanted: Knoxville businesses struggling to find employees

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE)– Driving around Knoxville or heading to your favorite restaurant, you might notice “now hiring” signs.

On a two-mile stretch of North Broadway, nearly 10 can be spotted.

Local business owners said they are feeling the struggle right now finding new employees.

So much so that some, such as Jackie’s Dream, are having to cut the restaurant’s hours in order to handle more customers with fewer staff.

“Due to being short staffed we have had to change our hours, in order to continue giving the BEST service possible, while working through these crazy and difficult times. Our new hours will be: Wed-Sun 11am-5pm. Sorry for any inconvenience but we are doing what we have to, in order to keep our doors open! Hopefully we can get back to our regular hours soon. Thanks for understanding, Ms. Jackie.”

Jackie’s Dream Facebook post

Not all businesses are having to cut hours, but the shortage of employees is being felt all across the board, according to Michele Hummel, the Executive Director of the Downtown Knoxville Alliance.

“50 merchants, businesses, restaurants, service providers, retail businesses. And there’s a range of job opportunities from servers, artists, housekeeping, massage therapist. It just ranges all over the board,” Hummel said.

Sweet P’s BBQ is one of those businesses.

While co-owner Chris Ford isn’t in dire need of workers for their current location, he is for the location they’re about to open in Fountain City.

“We need people. And it has been a challenge recently, for sure,” Ford said.

Ford said he needs to hire at least 20 people to open Sweet P’s second location by June 1.

He said he needs those employees in the coming weeks, so they can train for the store opening.

“You know, it might push back the opening of our new restaurant for sure,” Ford said.

He is hopeful.

Ford said he’s been able to hire some new staff through a recent job fair.

Hummel said the DKA is also trying to help find employees for the businesses they help represent.

She said DKA is doing so by compiling all the listings on their website, making it easy to apply for anyone who is looking.

That can be found at downtownknoxvillealliance.org/hiring.

While also making it easier to apply, and clearly posting that businesses are hiring, employers said now is the time to find a job paying above minimum wage in the service industry.

Joe Burger, a franchisee owner of five McDonalds in the Knoxville area, said there’s no such thing as minimum wage, even in the fast-food industry right now.

He said positions at his locations start at $10 an hour, and he offers paid time off. Burger said he knew he wasn’t the only fast food owner with those incentives. His stores were also feeling the struggle hiring new employees.

At his five stores, he could use five to ten employees each.

He said about 500 positions are at McDonalds restaurants in East Tennessee alone.

Business owners, and the DKA, guess several reasons for the employee shortage.

Unemployment claims, fear of working up close and personal with COVID-19 still around, and parents having to stay home with their kids are a few.

More people getting vaccinated and going out to enjoy the weather doesn’t help, in the means of creating a higher demand for service.

“I know with the restrictions last night expiring, we’re seeing uh businesses are going to be staying open later, so I think that’s where another need is having, is bringing people back to help service their hours that are there,” Hummel said.

Ford said he would be willing to hire restaurant staff with little experience in the service industry.

He just needs bodies to open his new joint, without tiring out the employees he does have.

“If you want to learn to be a pit master, you know, we are certainly looking for all positions and not a lot of experience is really required. As long as you know, you’re looking to work,” Ford said.

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