Double Barrel Wine Bar and Lounge owner Lionel Madriz outside his business in Snohomish. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Double Barrel Wine Bar and Lounge owner Lionel Madriz outside his business in Snohomish. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Job-seekers today are choosy, forcing employers to adapt

If they even show up, prospective employees are calling the shots. First question: What’s the pay?

SNOHOMISH — When Lionel Madriz bought the Double Barrel Wine Bar & Lounge in November, the restaurant came fully stocked — but not fully staffed.

With opening day set for Dec. 4, Madriz advertised on social media and online job boards for servers and kitchen help.

But there were few inquiries. When people did respond, he said they had only one question: How much does the job pay?

Before the current labor shortage, “that wasn’t a question people asked right off the bat, when they applied for a job. They would first try to sell themselves. But now everything is switched,” said Madriz, whose family also owns a restaurant in Livermore, California.

By mid-November, Madriz still had four positions to fill. “I’ve hired one person so far,” he said. His back-up plan? Call in family members to mind the kitchen.

Like other Snohomish County employers, including retailers, manufacturers and school districts, Madriz is facing a staff shortage.

“Now hiring” and “Help Wanted” signs are everywhere you look — in shop and restaurant windows, on virtual job boards and on sandwich boards. It’s gotten to the point the signs themselves are sold out at some local stores.

With more job openings than job-seekers, it’s an employee’s market.

Double Barrel Wine Bar and Lounge owner Lionel Madriz and his wife, Ana Madriz, sort items behind the bar. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Double Barrel Wine Bar and Lounge owner Lionel Madriz and his wife, Ana Madriz, sort items behind the bar. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Today, the state and the nation’s unemployment rate is 5% or below, which is considered full employment.

Washington’s unemployment rate dipped slightly lower in October to 5% from 5.1% the previous month. The number of new state jobless claims declined 13% in mid-November from earlier in the month.

Now experts worry the labor scarcity could tap the brakes on economic growth and burden consumers with higher prices and shipping delays.

The crisis has hit home.

Pizza parlors and restaurants around Snohomish County and beyond have scaled back the hours and days they’re open. Wait times for passengers at the ferry docks have gotten longer because of staff shortages. In the Mukilteo School District, a scarcity of substitute teachers has teachers feeling burnt-out and stressed, according to a National Public Radio report. The list goes on.

Double Barrel Wine Bar and Lounge owner Lionel Madriz and his wife, Ana Madriz, talk through menu items. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Double Barrel Wine Bar and Lounge owner Lionel Madriz and his wife, Ana Madriz, talk through menu items. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

The old ads don’t work

Innovative Salon Products, a Monroe company that makes salon-only hair care products, discovered that the company’s old help-wanted ads weren’t pulling in the numbers.

Until recently, the firm didn’t post hourly wages in help-wanted ads, said owner David Hanen. But with few applicants, Hanen changed tack. The pay range is now front and center, along with a notice that the manufacturer doesn’t have a COVID-19 vaccine requirement and weekends are free.

By adding that there was no vaccine mandate and weekends off, the company started getting more hits, Hanen said.

“If you’re putting out the same ads that you did a year ago, you’re not going to get applicants,” Hanen said.

Innovative Salon offers health care benefits, a matching 401k retirement plan and cash bonuses. Employees who refer a new hire are also eligible for bonuses.

But new hires and promising job candidates aren’t a sure thing.

“We’re getting ‘ghosted,’” Hanen said. New hires don’t show up for work about 40% of the time, he said.

Keeping employees on the job is yet another challenge, despite the manufacturer’s high score as a good place to work.

“When we ask people what drew them to the company, a lot of them say, ‘Your Indeed rating is one of the highest around,’” Hanen said.

Sign outside the Frito Lay Distribution Center in Everett. (The Herald)

Sign outside the Frito Lay Distribution Center in Everett. (The Herald)

Despite high marks, some employees are only interested in chasing the dollar, Hanen said.

“We had four people quit in the last 45 days because they could get more money elsewhere — an extra $3 to $5 an hour,” Hanen said.

The number of employees who quit their jobs rose to a record high of 4.4 million in September, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

For Innovative Salon and other manufacturers, it’s a perfect storm. Worker shortage, higher labor costs, supply chain bottlenecks and the rising cost of transportation and raw materials are driving up production costs.

Two key ingredients that Innovative Salon uses to manufacture hair products have doubled in price. Shipping costs are also up. “We’re now paying $3,500 for a 50-foot trailer that used to cost $2,500.” Hanen said.

“Consumers do not realize that 2022 could be a very expensive year,” Hanen said. “Everything is going to be more expensive. It’s going to trickle down.”

Sign near the Seaway Business Center at Seaway Boulevard and Merrill Creek Parkway in Everett. (The Herald)

Sign near the Seaway Business Center at Seaway Boulevard and Merrill Creek Parkway in Everett. (The Herald)

No shows

Integrative Rehabilitation Group provides hand therapy, post-op physical therapy and athletic training to schools and sports teams, among other services. Based in Mill Creek, IRG operates 38 clinics in Puget Sound, including 10 in Snohomish County.

Lori Stephenson, IRG’s talent acquisition manager, has a similar story to tell about no-shows — new hires and job candidates who don’t show up for the first day of work or an interview.

“Some are accepting positions and not coming to work,” Stephenson said. “Or they’re agreeing to positions, and then we never hear from them.”

According to Stephenson, ghosting and a lower number of applicants is a bigger problem at IRG’s Snohomish County clinics than its King County locations.

“There’s no lack of candidates at our Seattle clinics,” Stephenson said. “We have tons of applicants in Seattle. Maybe because there’s more population or people there don’t want to leave the city or don’t want to drive,” she speculated.

Entry-level jobs pay about $16 to $18 an hour and include benefits, a matching 401k and in-house training programs. “You can move up in the organization and go from entry-level to a certified physical therapist making $80,000 a year,” Stephenson said.

Sign in the window of the Wingstop Restaurant at 8417 Evergreen Way in Everett. (The Herald)

Sign in the window of the Wingstop Restaurant at 8417 Evergreen Way in Everett. (The Herald)

But here’s the rub: The competition among employers to fill entry-level jobs paying $16 to $24 hour is particularly fierce. Local manufacturers and distribution centers are brimming with open positions that offer similar compensation, according to a Snohomish County staffing firm.

“We’ve definitely had to increase our compensation to be market competitive,” Stephenson said.

Even so, IRG, which is opening a new Everett office, is having a tough time filling the clinic’s entry-level positions. “We have an ad on our website. Where we used to get 20 applicants we now get two,” Stephenson said.

Teens to the rescue

Shubert Ho, the owner of seven restaurants — six in Snohomish County, including Salt and Iron, the Market and Fire and the Feast in Edmonds — helped ease this summer’s hiring woes by turning to younger workers.

This summer Ho hired a “record number of high school applicants,” for the first time in decade, he said.

It worked out great, he said. Ho also saw it as an opportunity to introduce a new generation to the hospitality industry.

Also, he began seeing some familiar faces: people who’d migrated back to the restaurant industry from stints as delivery drivers or grocery and warehouse workers — jobs that were especially plentiful during the pandemic.

The Everett Post Office is almost always in a state of hiring. (Sue Misao / Herald file)

The Everett Post Office is almost always in a state of hiring. (Sue Misao / Herald file)

“There was a mass exodus from the hospitality industry to grocery stores and distribution centers,” Ho said. “They told me those jobs paid well at the time but said it was soul-crushing work.”

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ho laid off all but 10 of 210 employees.

“We have now grown back to 340 employees,” Ho said.

Ho said the lifting of the state’s eviction moratorium and the end of additional federal unemployment benefits in September helped beef up the applicant pool, Ho said.

“If you’d talked to me earlier this year, I still needed 100 people. Now we could hire another 20 or 30,” Ho said.

Still, his operations are not yet profitable. “I don’t see turning a profit until late 2022,” Ho said. “The restaurant and hospitality industry is still recovering from the massive losses.”

Bonuses — a ‘complete waste’?

Are you in the market for a new job?

If so, it’s a great time to be hunting for one, said Jenifer Lambert, chief strategy officer at Terra Staffing, an Everett-based business that serves Washington, Oregon, Arizona and Colorado.

While the economy has rebounded “quite nicely” from COVID, employers are desperate, Lambert said. That’s good news for job-seekers as many firms are upping the ante.

“We’ve seen significant pay increases at all levels, including entry-level jobs,” Lambert said.

Locally, manufacturers and distribution centers have the greatest number of open positions. Starting pay in those industries typically ranges from $16 to $24 an hour, she said.

Hiring bonuses have become a staple at some firms.

A Monroe cabinet maker is advertising $1,000 hiring bonuses, and the Frito Lay Distribution Center on Merrill Creek Parkway in Everett is offering $3,000 signing bonuses.

“Once upon a time those hiring bonuses were for high level positions. Now they’re being offered to entry-level employees,” Lambert said. “Employers are pulling out all the stops to compete.”

But there’s a catch to offering extra cash, she cautioned.

Bonuses are a “complete waste” unless the pay is competitive, Lambert said.

“A bonus gets want ad views, but that’s about it, Lambert tells employers.

Wages are usually a job seeker’s first concern if the position pays less than $75,000 a year, she said. “You have to post the pay rate or people won’t respond,” Lambert said. “It’s not that $75,000 is a magic number — it’s about being able to support your family or pay the rent.” (A living wage for one adult and one child in Snohomish County is $36.33 an hour, or $75,566 a year, according to MIT’s Living Wage Calculator.)

In October, the number of job openings in the U.S. was pegged at 9.4 million, a historic high.

Meanwhile, workforce participation rates — the number of adults who are working or actively looking for work — is 61.6%, near an historic low. By comparison, the labor participation rate in 2001 was nearly 67%, and it was 64% 10 years ago, according to government data.

A estimated 5 million left the labor force during the pandemic — half of whom may never return, Goldman Sachs Research recently reported.

A big chunk, 3.4 million, were 55 or over. Nearly half of those workers took early retirement or retired and aren’t expected to rejoin the labor force.

Others have abandoned their job searches because of the high cost of child care or the need to care for aging parents, economists say. Still others launched their own ventures. New business starts soared during the pandemic.

Goldman Sachs now predicts that hiring could pick up in January, Lambert said.

There have been some surprises this past year.

Employers expected to see more job applications when special federal unemployment payments — an extra $300 a week on top of state jobless benefits — ended in September, Lambert said.

The surge “lasted about a week, and then it returned to the same as before,” Lambert said.

Lambert is advising employers to pretend they’re job-seekers. “Log onto the job boards and search for the type of job you’re offering,” she said. Then draw a 15-mile radius and note what the competition is paying. That’s what you should be offering, she said.

“I don’t have a single client that doesn’t want to hear about available talent,” Lambert said. “We are placing people as soon as they’re available.”

Janice Podsada;; 425-339-3097; Twitter: @JanicePods.

Talk to us

More in Herald Business Journal

A man walks by Pfizer headquarters, Friday, Feb. 5, 2021, in New York. Pfizer will spend about $43 billion to buy Seagen and broaden its reach into cancer treatments, the pharmaceutical giant said Monday, March 13, 2023. (AP Photo / Mark Lennihan, File)
Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer to acquire Bothell-based Seagen

Pfizer announced Monday it plans to acquire Seagen in an all-cash deal for $43 billion.

Lacie Marsh-Carroll stirs wax before pouring candles in her garage at her home on March 17, 2018 in Lake Stevens. (Kevin Clark / The Daily Herald)
Women business owners in Snohomish, Island counties make their mark

In honor of Women’s History Month, we spotlight three local business owners.

Edmonds International Women’s Day takes place Saturday

The Edmonds gathering celebrates women and diversity with this year’s theme, “EmbraceEquity.”

Owner and CEO Lacie Carroll holds a “Warr;or” candle at the Malicious Women Candle Co workspace in Snohomish, Washington on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023. The business is women run and owned. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Malicious Women Co: She turned Crock-Pot candles into a sassy venture

Lacie Marsh-Carroll is rekindling her Snohomish candle company with new designs and products.

Kelly Matthews, 36, left, Tonka, 6, center, and Nichole Matthews, 36, pose for a photo in their home in Lynnwood, Washington on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023.  The twin sisters work as freelance comic book artists and illustrators. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Drawing interest: Twin sisters never gave up on making their mark

Lynnwood sisters, Kelly and Nichole Matthews, got their big break a decade ago and now draw comics full time.

Willow Mietus, 50, poses for a photo at her home in Coupeville, Washington on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023. Mietus bought a former Frito-Lay truck to sell her dyed yarn out of. She calls it "The Wool Wagon." (Annie Barker / The Herald)
The Wool Wagon to hit the streets of Whidbey Island

A self-described “professional yarn temptress” from Coupeville is setting up shop in a modified truck.

IonQ will open a new quantum computing manufacturing and research center at 3755 Monte Villa Parkway in Bothell. (Photo courtesy of IonQ)
Quantum computing firm IonQ to open Bothell R&D center

IonQ says quantum computing systems are key to addressing climate change, energy and transportation.

Nathanael Engen, founder of Black Forest Mushrooms, sits in the lobby of Think Tank Cowork with his 9-year-old dog, Bruce Wayne, on Friday, Jan. 27, 2023, in downtown Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Growing green mushrooms in downtown Everett

The founder of Black Forest Mushrooms plans to grow gourmet mushrooms locally, reducing their carbon footprint.

Barb Lamoureux, 78, poses for a photo at her office at 1904 Wetmore Ave in Everett, Washington on Monday, Jan. 23, 2023. Lamoureux, who founded Lamoureux Real Estate in 2004, is retiring after 33 years. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Barb Lamoureux, ‘North Everett’s Real Estate Agent’ retires

A longtime supporter of Housing Hope, Lamoureux helped launch the Windermere Foundation Golf Tournament.

AGC Biologics in Bothell to produce new diabetes treatment

The contract drug manufacturer paired with drug developer Provention Bio to bring the new therapy to market.

The Walmart Store on 11400 Highway 99 on March 21, 2023 in in Everett, Washington. The retail giant will close the store on April 21, 2023. (Janice Podsada / The Herald)
Walmart announces Everett store on Highway 99 will close on April 21

The Arkansas-based retail giant said the 20-year-old Walmart location was “underperforming financially.”

Everett Memorial Stadium and Funko Field on Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Drive to build new AquaSox ballpark gets $7.4M boost from state

The proposed Senate capital budget contains critical seed money for the city-led project likely to get matched by the House.