The latest data from Iowa Workforce Development shows 10,300 jobs were added to the payrolls at Iowa restaurants and hotels over the last 12 months.
“It’s no surprise that we would be showing growth, but I can tell you we would show substantially more growth if there were more people out there to hire,” Jessica Dunker, president and CEO of the Iowa Restaurant Association, said.
The state’s restaurant industry still has about 10,000 fewer workers than it did in 2019, before the pandemic hit according to Dunker.
“From a recovery standpoint, we are down about 10% from where we were pre-COVID on hotel employees,” said Dunker, who is also president and CEO of the newly-formed Iowa Hotel and Lodging Association, “but in the restaurant industry our latest data tells us that 35% of the restaurants in the state are 30% below their pre-COVID staffing levels, so they are desperate to hire people.”
Mike Whalen, founder of The Machine Shed Restaurants, is president and CEO of the Heart of America Group which operates hotels as well. The company has job openings at properties in Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Kansas.
“We’ve clawed our way back and we’re probably down about 10% from where we were from 2019, but it’s been difficult,” Whalen said. “It’s been a real a challenge and our biggest challenge to get back in business.”
There is a national trend of people who retired at the onset of the pandemic deciding to go back to work and Whalen said the hospitality industry is probably “at the top of that list” of so-called “un-retirements.”
Restaurants and the hotel business can be tough and demanding jobs, but I think you increasingly see that people miss it and come back,” Whalen said.
Prior to COVID, the fastest growing demographic in the hospitality industry was people age 55 and above, according to Dunker.
“On the restaurant side, in particular, we are such a part-time industry, we were really seeing that people were un-retiring or doing fun jobs — ‘fun money’ for themselves — in our industry,” Dunker said.
Dunker suggests with a scarce number of teenagers available, older workers and those who may be “un-retiring” are ever more critical for the hospitality industry. Dunker and Whalen made their comments this weekend on “Iowa Press” on Iowa PBS.