Employers Finding New Ways To Find, Retain Workers

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Extra workers are needed every winter tourist season at the Palm Beach Marriott Singer Island Resort & Spa, but this year, inventive minds turned a standard job search into art.

Using the hotel’s beach as a canvas, hotel officials arranged ocean-blue beach chairs to spell out an ad across the sand.

“We R Now Hiring. Join Us,” read the message.

It’s an SOS-type message for sure, but one that garnered attention, some hires, and a tip of the hat from Marriott International’s chief executive to Singer Island’s management.

“It’s tough to hire people who want to work in this industry. We’ve got to be creative,” said Roger Amidon, general manager of the Singer Island resort.

Necessity being the mother of invention, some Palm Beach County employers are thinking of innovative ways to attract and retain workers.

Some handed out mid-year bonuses to soften the increase in the cost of living. Others stretched work-from-home rules to tamp down transportation costs for their employees.

There’s not much flexibility when sky-high housing costs are driving many people out of the county. In Southeast Florida, including Palm Beach County, the average rent in July was $2,841 for all housing types.

“We’ve had a couple of employees that really can’t continue to live in the area,” said Christopher Irizarry, chief executive of FoundCare, a Palm Springs-based nonprofit center that offers health care and social services to individuals and families in several locations across the county.

One medical assistant had been working for a couple of months but then decided to resign.

“I wanted to see if we did something wrong or what we could do differently, and she said, ‘I just can’t afford to live here. I’m moving to Orlando,’” Irizarry said.

Irizarry said FoundCare’s hiring needs are especially critical because the nonprofit is rolling out new centers and services to care for residents year-round.

But for the hospitality industry, the coming winter months are a crucial time.

Amidon said staffing levels are at about 20% below where they need to be at the Singer Island resort. With a staff of about 235 right now, he still needs to get to about 280 workers to serve the guests who will be staying at the resort.

Already, rooms are filling up through December, including the busy Thanksgiving holiday, Amidon said.

Low unemployment, big staffing needs across Palm Beach County

Staffing is an issue Palm Beach County companies have been grappling with for the past year, and it’s not just confined to tourism and hospitality.

Overall, jobless rates are very low. Palm Beach County’s unemployment rate was 2.9% in July, just a notch above the statewide jobless rate of 2.8%.

Peter Ricci, director of FAU’s Hospitality and Tourism Management program, is urging hospitality companies to get creative in filling jobs, including providing housing or transportation allowances.

Amidon agreed that an allowance might be needed in the future to offset housing costs and attract or retain workers.

Some professional service firms already are crafting innovative ways to blunt the cost of living.

Gary Lesser, president of The Florida Bar and managing partner of the Lesser, Lesser, Landy & Smith in West Palm Beach, said his firm not only gave employees raises, it also switched to a permanent hybrid work arrangement to allow employees to work from home some days, and save on transportation costs.

“We don’t have any plans on changing back,” Lesser said. “We’re trying to be a leader on this issue.”

Meanwhile, employees at REG Architects in West Palm Beach received a summer bonus to help blunt the high cost of living, said the firm’s president, Rick Gonzalez.

The alternative? Lose valuable staff.

As it is, “I lost two people,” Gonzalez said. “One went to Nashville and the other went to the West Coast (of Florida.) And part of the reason was affordability.”

More companies could seek foreign labor

To address labor needs, many country clubs and private clubs once again are turning to seasonal foreign labor.

Some 39 Palm Beach County hotels, clubs and resorts have asked the U.S. Labor Department for permission to hire 2,266 foreign workers through the federal government’s H-2B visa program, according to CareerSource.

The H2B program allows employers to bring in low-wage workers for seasonal, non-agricultural work. Companies using the H2B program must also provide housing for foreign workers.

Marriott’s Amidon said he may look into applying for the program for the 2023-24 winter season to fill seasonal staffing positions.

But once again, “it comes down to housing,” Amidon said.