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Archive for Saturday, November 4, 2000

Labor pains continue

National, Lawrence retailers scrambling for holiday help

November 4, 2000

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A Lawrence fast-food restaurant couldn't keep up with a tightening labor market, another indication that workers could be scarce for retailers looking for help this holiday season.

Hardee's closed a restaurant this week at 1313 W. Sixth, the victim of disappointing sales and an inability to hire and retain workers.

Mike Schneider, left, and Penny Lentfer, both of Topeka, fill out
applications for customer service jobs at Sprint PCS's Lawrence
Customer Care Center in the Lawrence Riverfront Plaza. The
nationwide unemployment rate is at its lowest level in 30 years.

Mike Schneider, left, and Penny Lentfer, both of Topeka, fill out applications for customer service jobs at Sprint PCS's Lawrence Customer Care Center in the Lawrence Riverfront Plaza. The nationwide unemployment rate is at its lowest level in 30 years.

The windows are boarded up, the sign has been removed and its 10 workers about half the number needed to run the place have been transferred to other nearby Hardee's restaurants.

"We just didn't have enough people," said Summer Welsh, an assistant manager who transferred to the Hardee's at 23rd and Iowa streets. "People come and go."

The difficulty of hiring workers is being felt all over town and across the country, as the unemployment rate hovers at its lowest point in three decades while economic growth continues to pump ahead.

Nationwide unemployment stood at 3.9 percent in October, the Labor Department reported Friday. That's the lowest rate since 1970, which adds to fears of a tight labor market heading into the busiest shopping season of the year.

"The labor market in Lawrence is about as challenging as anywhere in the United States," said Debi Moore, senior vice president for economic development at the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce. "Everyone is looking for new employees.

"The companies that provide competitive wages, competitive benefits and a positive work environment are going to be able to attract the workers they need."

On Thursday, Sprint PCS announced plans to hire another 400 full-and part-time workers for its customer care center in Lawrence. The company said it would pay entry-level employees $8 to $12 an hour, plus offer retirement programs, insurance even stock-purchase options.

"The labor market in Lawrence is about as challenging as anywhere in the United States. Everyone is looking for new employees."

Debi Moore, senior vice president for economic development at the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce

Shirley Martin-Smith, owner of Adecco, an employment service with operations in Lawrence, Topeka and Wichita, said all retailers would be challenged to find enough workers.

"It's not a shortage of workers," Martin-Smith said. "What's happening is people are doing better they have a little more discretionary income, and that means they don't necessarily have to work for the extra money.

"You've just got lots of job choices. People who want work pretty much can get the kind of work they want to do, and when they want to do it."

SuperTarget plans to hire about 100 seasonal workers for the holiday shopping season. Store team leader Chad Rings is confident there will be enough college students remaining in town and looking to pick up some extra cash.

The challenge doesn't faze him.

"In retail it's always like this," Rings said. "It always is."

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