Terry Bruns, owner of Two Men and a Truck, said he he has lost sleep lately fretting over the moving company.
He typically hires more movers and truck drivers in the spring to accommodate increasing seasonal demand. But this spring, workers are in short supply, leaving him five or six short.
As a result, Bruns said he turned away 25 requests for moves in March. That’s lost revenue, but Bruns is more troubled by the possible hit to his reputation.
“We worked extremely hard to build the business,” Bruns said. “To have to tell 15 percent of the people calling us, ‘Sorry, we don’t have the capacity,’ that’s a huge problem.”
Businesses across Idaho are facing similar staffing problems.
The state’s unemployment rate was just 3.5 percent in March. That means that most Idahoans who have looked for jobs recently have found them, said Craig Shaul, research analyst supervisor at Idaho Department of Labor. Ada County has an even lower unemployment rate: 3 percent. Canyon County is at 3.9 percent.
Dipping under 4 or 5 percent means business owners such as Bruns face a diminished labor pool, Shaul said.
“They are probably having to lure them away from other employers, probably with a better pay package,” Shaul said. “There’s a domino effect after that.”
That is welcome news for workers. Increased employer competition helped boost Idaho’s median wage from $15.32 an hour in 2015 — seventh lowest among states — to $15.77 an hour in 2016, ninth lowest. Shaul expects another boost 2017.
Some call centers in the Treasure Valley are now hiring at $13 an hour, $3 more than the industry median two years ago, Shaul said.
To recruit and keep workers, Bruns said he has increased wages for all employees and now pays movers $11 an hour, guarantees at least $2 an hour in tips, and also offers profit sharing, which amounted to an additional $2.22 an hour in the last quarter. The movers average $3 to $5 an hour in tips.
Restauranteur Brian McGill delayed his planned reopening of a Boise eatery for six weeks because he couldn’t hire enough kitchen staff. The restaurant, Willowcreek Grill and Raw Sushi, reopened this month as what McGill described as a combination of The Dish, a restaurant he owned but closed at 205 N. 10th St., and his other restaurants, Raw and Willowcreek Grill, both at 2273 S. Vista Ave.
McGill said the shrinking labor pool has helped entry-level workers who would normally be available to work in his kitchens but who have found higher-paying jobs in landscaping and construction.
“My understanding is they get about $17 an hour to push a broom,” he said. “Restaurants can’t compete with that.”
The restaurant worker pool was already stretched because of a boom in the food-and-beverage industry in the Treasure Valley since McGill opened The Dish in 2013. That has driven up kitchen wages by $3 an hour, he said.
And higher pay could spell trouble for restaurants operating on thin margins.
“Our burgers are $10 or $11. Our prices don’t change,” McGill said. “With increased wages, it’s become a bigger struggle.”
Criminal record? You’re hired!
The labor market has been good for Boise nonprofit Create Common Good. It trains to people with barriers to employment, including refugees, women escaping domestic abuse, veterans, people with mental or physical disabilities, and former inmates.
Trainees graduate from a 120-hour training program with a food-handling certificate. Create Common Good then tries to persuade employers to overlook holes in the graduates’ resumes — checkered work histories, language barriers, criminal records — and give them jobs.
About six months ago, Create Common Good started receiving more calls from companies needing workers, said Community Engagement and Development Manager Erin McCandless. Eighty-six percent of trainees landed jobs last year, she said. She expects at least 90 percent to get them in 2017.
“It used to be we were beating down employers’ doors,” she said. “Now they are beating down ours.”
In 2009, in the depth of the Great Recession, Idaho had four job seekers for every opening. In 2016, it had one — and many of the jobs were not entry level.
Receptionist applicants abound
Darren Rux, a workforce consultant for the Department of Labor, helps employers fill openings and organizes job fairs. Rux said some fields, including information technology, construction and landscaping, have managed to fill their entry-level positions, often by poaching people from lower-paying sectors like retail and restaurants.
But those employers still aren’t finding the workers they need to fill better-paying skilled, nonentry-level vacancies, Rux said. Fewer job seekers are applying for work, and when they do, they are hoping to break into office jobs, he said.
“I still get 180 applications when recruiting an administration receptionist,” he said. “When I put one out for a construction worker, I get 13.”
Rux thinks employers are less picky about qualifications now.
“Companies start poaching from one another, and it’s not necessarily even from like businesses,” he said. “Landscaping companies will poach the cooks. Construction starts to poach the landscapers.”
Latino workers are benefiting from the tight job market, Shaul said. Latinos, many of whom have fake documents and lack legal authorization to work in the United States, make up the bulk of the workforce in the Idaho dairy industry. The industry is asking Congress to abate the labor shortage by expanding year-round visas.
A 2017 study from the McClure Center for Public Policy Research at the University of Idaho shows that Latinos recovered from the recession faster than non-Latinos, Shaul said.
“They haven’t just refilled jobs they lost during the recession,” he said. “They are moving into better-paying jobs in better types of industries with better pay, better hours and usually better circumstances in terms of job duties.”
Many Latinos in Ada County moved up from entry-level jobs into the construction industry, leaving some construction companies unable to finish jobs on schedule.
Katrina Wehr, president of the Boise Regional Realtors, said the lack of journeymen in the trades is responsible for record-low home inventories in the Treasure Valley and much of the rest of the nation. The shortage has driven up home prices and prompted bidding wars across the Treasure Valley.
“You can only build what there’s labor available to build,” she said.
Zach Kyle: 208-377-6464, @ZachKyleNews