PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — The hospitality industry is struggling to recover. But it’s not because of a lack of business, but a limited workforce.
Hotel resorts had to lay off employees across the board last year.
They continue to face challenges of building up their staff again before the busy tourism season for Palm Beach County begins around Thanksgiving.
Recruiting is the main priority for local hotels as we get closer to the winter tourism season. But there is a higher supply of jobs than there are workers, pushing resorts to offer competitive wages and look to other countries for employees.
“Pre-pandemic I was at 280 employees. April 1, I was at 145, and as of last week, I’m now at 225,” said Marriott Singer Island General Manager Roger Amidon.
Amidon said he’s still short 45 employees with the busy tourist season just weeks away.
“We did not anticipate this shortage of employees throughout our restaurants, retail and hospitality industry at all,” Amidon said.
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After massive layoffs in 2020, Amidon said the unexpected happened this February and lasted through August.
“Our business levels surpassed 2019. We were not prepared for that either,” Amidon said.
Amidon said cross-training employees was how they managed to continue operating.
“So, if one’s a bartender, they could also be a pool concierge or a beach attendant. Our management team was working in housekeeping, inspecting rooms, making up rooms,” Amidon said.
Hiring was tough because resorts could not compete with state and federal unemployment benefits this year — until now.
With everyone looking to hire new workers, Amidon said the resort has increased starting wages, is offering free lunch and dinner to employees again, along with benefits packages.
“What drove me to the Marriott was so many options to move up, cross-train, different areas, departments you can move into,” said newly-hired beach supervisor Max Everett.
Everett was hired last month and is in charge of recreation.
Even though new employees are coming on board, the hotel has expanded recruiting to high schools with hospitality magnet programs, colleges, veterans hospitals and even senior centers.
According to CareerSource Palm Beach County, 43 area hotels and resorts have put in orders for more than 2,700 H-2B visa positions to find foreign workers with pay ranging from $10 to $28 an hour.
“We are now trying to apply to be on that list to receive them,” Amidon said. “(The) challenge that we will have is if we get 10, or 12 or 15 of them here, will be housing. Obviously, the real estate market and the rental market (have) risen significantly.”
The orders for foreign workers are currently on delay because of COVID-19 travel restrictions, creating another obstacle.
Overall, the hospitality industry in Palm Beach County has had the highest over-the-year job gains with 14,200 positions.
Restaurants, retail and resort managers hope they can find the workforce.
“The demand for travel is going to continue going up, and we need to meet that expectation,” Amidon said.
Palm Beach Marriott Singer Island Beach Resort and Spa has held multiple job fairs at its hotels in recent months and is planning another.
Palm Beach County has several upcoming job fairs:
Oct. 14 – Project Impact job fair at the Boynton Beach Arts and Cultural Center, 3 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Oct. 19 – Community in-person job fair at the Riviera Beach Marina Center
Oct. 29 – In-person job fair at Palm Beach State College Lake Worth campus focused on the manufacturing industry. Veterans’ priority from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m.; Public from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Click here for more information on these events.