Jobs and Vacancies in Oregon’s Hospitality Industry

by Erik Knoder

September 26, 2019

Many Oregon businesses are having a hard time finding the employees they want in today’s tight labor market. Oregon’s leisure and hospitality industry (mostly lodging and restaurants) seems to struggle more than most to get the workers it needs. Leisure and hospitality employment grew by 3 to 5 percent during the state’s recovery from the Great Recession. Growth slowed to 2 percent in 2018 and running just a little under 2 percent in 2019, so the industry is finding workers, maybe just not as many as managers would like. Total payroll employment in Oregon is also growing a little under 2 percent this year.

There are probably several reasons that lead to difficulties in hiring hospitality workers: wages are typically lower than in most other industries, work can be seasonal and part time, workers may be asked to work split shifts and odd hours, and many jobs don’t offer benefits. The result of hiring challenges show up several ways. Revenue in the travel industry seems to be growing slightly faster than employment, and leisure and hospitality reports many job vacancies.

Dean Runyon Associates collects information on the travel industry, and their data show that visitor spending in Oregon increased 41 percent from 2010 to 2018 while employment increased only 28 percent. Most of the spending increase is due to inflation, but even after adjusting for this, visitor spending grew 9 percent faster than employment from 1992 to 2018. Although the travel industry is broader than just leisure and hospitality there is considerable overlap in terms of employment.
The leisure and hospitality industry also reports many jobs vacancies. The Oregon Employment Department surveys businesses each quarter to ask about their job vacancies, and leisure and hospitality is typically one of the leaders. In 2018 it ranked second in the number of vacancies reported.
The survey also provides other insights into the industry’s employment challenges. The average hourly wage offered for the open jobs was the lowest of any major industry at $12.63 per hour. Some hospitality workers receive tips in addition to wages, but the industry is well-noted for its low average wages. The positions offered were also less often full time or permanent than those offered by other industries.

Despite these challenges, managers reported that fewer positions than average were difficult to fill. Whether a position is deemed difficult to fill is a subjective assessment by a manager. It may be that hospitality managers are simply used to the challenges they face in hiring staff. And hospitality managers should be expert at hiring; the Census Bureau estimates that turnover in leisure and hospitality in Oregon averaged 15.1 percent per quarter from 2014 to 2018 verses 8.6 percent for all industries combined except leisure and hospitality.

The annual vacancy survey also solicits comments from leisure and hospitality managers on why vacancies are difficult to fill. Many of the comments mentioned hard work, part-time or temporary jobs, and unusual hours. In addition, there were 22 comments claiming a poor work ethic for the population. Interestingly, only six comments stated that low wages were at least partly responsible for the lack of qualified applicants despite private-sector leisure and hospitality having an annual average wage of just $22,754 compared to $52,077 for all private-sector industries combined.

Where does a tight labor market leave hospitality managers? Zach Poole, president and CEO of Pig and Pancake restaurants, said that his managers spend much more time and effort on recruiting and retaining staff than in years past. He also said that it was very important to offer competitive pay, and they offer a year-end bonus. Beyond that the company also offers benefits, such as health insurance, and does more of its recruiting online. Other companies have also tried hiring bonuses and even considered providing housing due to the tight housing markets in some parts of the state.

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