Mainebiz Special Editions

Work for ME 2022

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S P R I N G 2 0 2 2 / W O R K F O R M E 43 H o s p i t a l i t y / R e t a i l B U I L D Y O U R CA R E E R W I T H U S Join our team of construction professionals at an employee-owned company with over 60 years of experience. And the restaurant training pro- gram has him thinking about an after-school job at a local burger restaurant. That's the kind of story that Kathryn Ference, the workforce development director for the Maine Tourism Association, and others eager to see more people view the restaurant industry as a career want to hear. When the pandemic hit and workplace safety and satisfac- tion plummeted, many left the restaurant industry and haven't looked back since, says Ference. Employment in the state's lei- sure and hospitality industry as a whole in December 2021 was up 9.6% from the year prior but was "still the lowest level of employment in the industry in Maine since 2005," she added. But the problem didn't neces- sarily start with the pandemic, although the public health cri- sis certainly exacerbated and exposed the issue to customers. "If you weren't in the in- dustry, you might be under the impression that before the pan- demic, there were absolutely no problems with hiring and every- thing was perfectly hunky dory and you could just find people," says Ference in an interview. "It's not something that was widely publicized or widely known pre- pandemic, but the industry in Maine has been having a hard time finding enough people to work its positions for years now." Recruitment and retention issues have led over 60% of Maine accommodations and food ser- vices companies to raise wages or award bonuses since the pan- demic began, explained Ference, citing the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Few are raising ben- efits, she added. Of course, the industry's poor reputation as a healthy work- place will likely take more than increased wages. Bo Jennings, the general manager of Bar Harbor's Side Street Café, noted that more people are prioritizing their mental health. He pointed to Olympic athlete and gymnast Simone Biles' decision to walk away from a potential medal to focus on her mental health. "She was willing to walk away to protect her own mental health, so if someone's willing to do that for a gold medal, they're willing to do that for their [restaurant industry] job as well," says Jen- nings. Encouraging work-life balance, schedule flexibility and feeling supported in the work- place can go a long way to build loyalty among restaurant staff and give them reasons to stay. While a program like this might help in some way mini- mize or help reverse the trend of a shortage of restaurant industry workers, Waybright says "that's not necessarily the point" of My Place Teen Center's program. "What it really is about is … who are they going to become at 20, 25 years old?" says Dwyer. She added, "We just feel a profound sense of responsibil- ity to do everything we can that is wholesome, that is pertinent, that is loving, that is savvy, to make an impact on their lives now and for their future. That is the point." n It's nice to actually have something to do instead of laying down the whole day. — Jack Richards restaurant trainee

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