BRIDGEWATER — In previous years, Stephen Prisco would have received a flood of applications to work for his Bridgewater lawn care business by this point in the summer. This year, however, there’s been “next to none.”
“It’s like dead in the water,” he said.
Prisco said that he typically hires around six full-time lawn care workers between the ages of 20 and 60, plus two to four high school and college students.
“That’s all changed now,” he said.
The few college students that have applied to work at Steve’s Lawn Care sometimes asked to be paid more than $20 per hour.
“I can’t pay a college kid $25 an hour,” Prisco said. “It just doesn’t make fiscal sense.”
As the Brockton area moves into the warmer months, and as pandemic restrictions begin to lift, summer businesses like Steve’s Lawn Care are preparing for a somewhat normal summer. But many local businesses are struggling to find enough employees going into the busy summer season.
“Now you need to plan out further in advance,” said Chris Creutz, a golf instructor and manager of the driving range at Golf Country in South Easton.
“We’ve managed to secure some reliable people to work here, but it’s taken more effort than it probably had in prior years.”
Employees call the shots
Similar to recent months, the Brockton labor market is currently in the hands of the employees. Job seekers can be picky when deciding where to work, and are asking for higher pay. Meanwhile, employers are receiving fewer applications and are settling for smaller staffs or untrained workers.
John Minihan, president of Daddy’s Dairy ice cream shop on Belmont Street in Brockton, said that he usually sees between 70 and 80 applicants each year, but over the past two years, “we’re lucky to get 15 or 20.”
He recently hired around 20 new employees from around the Brockton area, most of whom only stayed for a couple weeks.
“The problem we’re having is a lot of them want to work, but they don’t really want to work,” he said.
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According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment across the country rose by 390,000 in May, and the unemployment rate stayed at 3.6% for the third straight month. Industries like leisure and hospitality, transportation and warehousing saw a rise in employment rates in May, while employment rates in retail declined, particularly in the clothing, food and gardening supply sectors.
Average pay for employees of private companies rose by .3% over the course of May, now sitting at $31.95 per hour.
In Massachusetts, the unemployment rates fell by .2% from March to April, and fell by 2.2% from April 2021 to April 2022. In Brockton and its surrounding towns, the unemployment rate has steadily fallen from 6% in January to 4.1% in April.
Post-grads have too many options
Small seasonal shops aren’t the only businesses suffering. Laurent Troland, assistant director of employer services at Bridgewater State University, said that graduating seniors who are starting their careers have enough job opportunities to pick from that they can take their time.
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“Most employers across the board aren’t filling all roles,” he said.
Employers in fields such accounting, human services and education have had consistent, regular job openings waiting to be filled. Businesses that would usually have their spring semester recruits selected by November were still searching after the spring semester had started.
The majority of BSU students are finding internships with social agencies, including the Brockton Police Department or the mayor’s office, as opposed to private companies.
Jennifer Sanchez-Olsen, a coordinator of career planning at Massasoit Community College, said that many students are seeking work that allows them to work virtually, and some companies with openings posted on the college’s career platform, Handshake, aren’t getting any applications.
“There are more opportunities and people are becoming more selective,” she said.
Meanwhile 100% of students in Massasoit’s medical and dental assistant programs found jobs upon graduating, and the vast majority of life science and health care students found work easily.
The loyal few
As the city roars toward the summer, local businesses are heavily relying on returning college-aged employees to hold down operations.
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Linda Casey, general manager of Norwood Lawncare’s garden center, said that May and June are calmer months for the store, so the smaller-sized staff can handle it. But during the hectic months of March and April, they only brought in a few new employees.
“There were times when we were short-staffed, but people were patient, customers were patient, so we’re grateful for that,” Casey said.
Many businesses have a solid group of loyal employees who have been with the respective businesses for a number of years, leaving during the school year then coming back over the summer. Business owners are relying on their loyalty as they aren’t bringing in enough new faces.
For Prisco and Steve’s Lawn Care, which has been in business for over 30 years, the barrier for entry for new lawn care workers is so high that skilled workers are currently in extreme demand but are low in supply.
“The younger fellas that have gotten into it, they’re basically naming their prices,” Prisco said.
With so many businesses and professional companies needing to hire, job seekers can choose the jobs that works best for them — the best pay, the better benefits, remote work and more leisure time with their families — leaving businesses scrambling.
“It’s, unfortunately, a sign of the times,” Prisco said.