Houston hospitality industry struggles to hire workers amid high unemployment

Out of about ten thousand restaurants in the greater Houston area, nearly every one of them is hiring, according to the Texas Restaurant Association. Yet many of them are struggling to find workers.

The latest unemployment rate for Houston is eight percent, which is more than double the number of people out of work compared to pre-pandemic numbers, according to Texas Workforce Solutions. So filling jobs should be easy. That is not the case in the hospitality industry.

"We’ve has a struggle with our staff...making sure we’re not overworking our people," said Justin Vise with Karbach Brewery, Restaurant, and Gift Shop.

Karbach kicked off a job fair Tuesday to

fill employment gaps in all departments, offering their highest minimum wages yet and adding hiring incentives to entice people to apply. They’ll host the job fair again next Tuesday.

Melissa Stewart with Texas Restaurant Association says those extra incentives are something many in the hospitality industry have had to offer up, to entice otherwise uninterested people to take jobs with them despite high unemployment.

"We hear stories fairly consistently unfortunately where we’ll have a big job fair and two to three dozen employers out there to hire, and everyone’s ready to go, and three people come by," said Stewart.

There could be several reasons for the struggle to fill hospitality industry jobs.

"I think a lot of people who were in hospitality before COVID have gone on to find other jobs in other industries," said Vise

Others believe a surplus of unemployment benefits from the government has discouraged people from going back to work.

"The unemployment is paying them decent money, and they’re not used to it, so they’re just trying to keep that money," said Jana Johnson, who attended the Karbach job fair in hopes of landing a job as a cook but spent five months on unemployment during the pandemic.

Johnson says she prefers work over the unemployment benefits that are unusually high in the pandemic. The Texas Workforce Commission says state benefits can range from $70 to $535 weekly, and now through September, unemployed workers get an additional $300 per week in federal funding.

For some moms, the question is how to afford child care if they return to work. Texas Workforce Solutions is offering scholarships for parents in that predicament.

"Workforce Solutions is working with employers to source out those candidates and help them get back to work, particularly with the childcare financial aid," said Michelle Castrow with Texas Workforce Solutions.

Peak unemployment in Houston was 14 percent, so the situation has improved. But there are still 270-thousand people in the Houston area who are looking for work, according to Texas Workforce Solutions. The number is even higher when you include those who are unemployed and gave up looking for work.

If you’d like a job in hospitality, Stewart recommends just going to your favorite restaurant and asking for a job. Almost all are hiring, she says.