Tracking worker shortage: Janesville business owner returns from semi-retirement to help out

Sharen Hoskins helps customers at the Wedge Inn Cafe, after returning from semi-retirement to...
Sharen Hoskins helps customers at the Wedge Inn Cafe, after returning from semi-retirement to fill in worker gaps.(WMTV/Michelle Baik)
Published: Jun. 24, 2021 at 9:41 PM CDT
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JANESVILLE, Wis. (WMTV) - Businesses across Wisconsin say they’re still struggling to find workers, which according to one group, is the result of a pandemic-era federal unemployment program.

The Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC) released a workforce report after surveying more than 250 businesses in the state. The group found 86 percent of businesses are having trouble hiring.

At Janesville’s Wedge Inn Cafe, owner Sharen Hoskins returned from semi-retirement in Florida to bus tables.

“I’m very tired, and I still have to sweep and mop the restaurant,” she said Thursday, 15 minutes until closing. “Now that everyone’s back out, we are so busy here.”

Hoskins said she stepped in because she couldn’t get the help that she has been looking for. She needs several more workers between the cafe and the pub she owns next door, but in May, she said not a single person applied.

“Everyone’s hiring, so if I have an application and send them out the door, by the time I call them for an interview, it might be too late,” she said. “So I’ve been interviewing on the spot.”

Kurt Bauer, WMC president and CEO, said the difficulty in finding workers is preventing a post-COVID economic recovery.

“We would call it a labor shortage prior to what’s happening with the $300 per week supplemental. Now, it’s a workforce emergency,” he said. The WMC has called on state legislators to pull Wisconsin out of the federal program that gives an extra $300 a week to unemployed people who lost their jobs during the pandemic.

Earlier this month, Republican lawmakers passed the bill eliminating the supplement and sent it to Governor Tony Evers. If Evers doesn’t sign the bill, the federal program will expire in September.

The WMC is not only pushing for short term fixes but also solutions in the long run.

“You need talent retention, born and raised Wisconsinites, we need to find them jobs here and do whatever we can to try and keep them here,” he said, explaining the state has struggled with demographics for years. “We need talent attraction. We need people from other states to come here, people from other countries to come here and work.”

Bauer added, “Then we need talent reintegration because we have typically had very high labor participation rates in Wisconsin. It has dropped which means a lot of people who are eligible, of working age, are no longer in the workforce. We need to figure out a way to get them back into the workforce.”

At the Wedge Inn, Hoskins said she has tried her version of keeping talent. “She’s just a 16-year-old high school student,” Hoskins said, describing one of her staff members. “So I’m training her during the week, hoping that I’ll be able to keep her as weekend help for next four years.”

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