For Pasta Maker in Durham, Being Short-Staffed is the New Normal in Tight Labor Market

bizjournals.com, June 30, 2021, by

Small-business owners in the Triangle aren’t just struggling to find enough workers – fewer job applicants means a smaller pool of qualified workers.

Carmella Alvaro, owner of Melina’s Fresh Pasta in Durham, is constantly trying to find ways to keep operations going as the company deals with being shorthanded. Alvaro said her business has dealt with the issue since the beginning of the pandemic more than one year ago.

“We were fortunate during Covid when people were cooking at home, we had almost double the demand because the restaurants were closed and the grocery stores had shortages,” she said. “So, for a while it was very hard to get fresh pasta.”

Alvaro has worked long shifts and found temporary staff to fill in. Now, she needs long-term workers who are qualified, she said, but she’s getting little if any response to postings she puts on job board – a recent survey from job site Indeed found just 10 percent of job seekers are actively and urgently searching for work.

“They were able to help with packaging so I was happy that during the pandemic I could help people make some money when they were losing their jobs.” she said. “But there’s a fair amount of a learning curve to make pasta the way we make it.”

Alvaro, who built her business at local markets before opening a storefront on Chapel Hill Road in 2017, didn’t share specifics about how much she pays her workers but said she gives bonuses when she can. She currently has four employees and hopes to hire another person, but until then she is concentrating on developing her current employees.

“We don’t have time to do the level of service we would normally do,” Alvaro said. “A lot of that is because of the shortage and when we hire people there’s a training curve. We’re doing the best we can.”

Ali Knapp, president of Wisetail, a brand building software company, said business owners who have focused on improving their current talent have survived.

“The ability to re-skill and up-skill current employees is paramount for restaurants to weather the current labor shortage in the U.S.,” Knapp said. “In 2020, many restaurants and hospitality companies found they needed to up-skill a large number of employees in order to keep operations running smoothly, teaching them new, higher-level skills that apply to their current positions. Other restaurants decided to leverage the workers they still had and re-skill them – essentially training them to do entirely new jobs – to pivot with changing conditions and keep the company in business.”

Re-skilling current workers is one-sixth the cost of hiring a new employee, she added

94 percent of employees said they would stay longer with an employer that invested in their learning and development, Knapp said, citing a Workplace Learning Report from Linkedin.

“Because of this, evaluating current employees’ skills – and regularly checking in on goals – is a critical part of leadership training that will help employers identify the need for up-skilling and re-skilling of employees,” she said. “Also, tying company goals to learning and development initiatives will help identify the best times to use ‘new skilling’ as a business strategy. ”

At Melina’s Fresh Pasta, Alvaro has cut operating hours and trimmed down the menu.

“It’s almost impossible to plan,” she said. “Are you going to stay at this level in 2022 or return to where we were in 2019? I’m going to keep everything going as much as I can until the pandemic is over and I can make normal decisions about how business will be. It’s on [business owners] to figure out how to keep our businesses going, but hopefully the customers will be patient as we go through this.”

Read the full article in the Triangle Business Journal here >

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