Where are the workers? Taking a closer look at Utah’s shifting labor force

Oct 5, 2021, 7:36 AM | Updated: 11:01 am

SALT LAKE CITY — The sign in the window of a pizza restaurant in Salt Lake City asks dinner guests for patience due to “low staff.” Many other restaurants simply state, “help wanted.”

But the real story of Utah’s labor shortage plays out among the staff.

Sarah Baes not only helps manage MidiCi restaurant at the Gateway, but she also tends bar, preps the pizza, cooks the pizza and even rings up customers.

“Right now, everyone is doing everything,” said Baes.

Sarah Baes does a little bit of everything at MidiCi in Salt Lake City due to staffing issues. (KSL TV)

MidiCi has openings in every position. The restaurant already closed for lunch, so their limited staff could handle dinner. Baes said she and her coworkers go home, “exhausted, really exhausted.”

Utah faces the fifth-largest labor shortage in the country. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, for every Utahn who wants a job, there are 1.45 openings.

That gap is felt the most acutely in the service industry, where jobs disappeared during the early weeks of the pandemic and the workers have never come back.

“The workers were chased away during COVID,” said Mark Knold, chief economist with the Utah Department of Workforce Services. “The labor force moved on to other things.”

So where are the workers?

Contrary to the common narrative, they’re not “living off stimulus and unemployment checks.”

Utah suspended stimulus checks two months early last June. And the DWS reports the number of Utahns collecting ongoing unemployment (8,925) is almost exactly where it was before the pandemic (8,856).

What has changed is thousands of Utah workers moved to different jobs.

  • High-growth industries like professional, business and computer tech attracted more than 20,000 new workers.
  • Trade, transportation, and warehouse jobs attracted nearly 17,000 new workers.
  • Construction, more than 13,000.

Renae Flores made the change. She worked graveyards for the U.S. Postal Service before the pandemic. Now, she works for an online education company.

“I’m just starting out and it’s amazing,” she said.

Her enthusiasm may have something to do with what the job does not demand: No graveyards, no overtime, no holidays, no physical labor. She works from home and doubled her pay.

“It’s been an all-around game-changer,” she said.

Shannon Franckel worked in lodging before the pandemic and is preparing to make the same jump.

“I can get a job that I enjoy, that pays me well, that has good benefits and I don’t have to choose it over my children,” she said.

She and dozens of other women are getting the tech skills they need through the program, “Utah Tech Moms.” Co-founder Trina Limpert saw a huge need.

“I get calls every day, every day, ‘There is a labor shortage. We can’t find talent, we can’t find talent,’” she said.

Now she is helping to train that talent pool and transforming not just careers, but the lives of Utah women.

That transformation comes at a cost for those in the food, hospitality and other minimum wage industries, which is why wages are going up.

The number of $15/hour jobs on ZipRecruiter has doubled since the pandemic. But it’s not just money. Microsoft WorkLab reports more than 70% of workers now want a flexible, hybrid work schedule. The pandemic and Utah’s red-hot economy have made workers more selective.

“These are the kinds of environments that will take slow-moving, long-term trends and turn them real quick,” said Knold.

So while this trend is empowering to those in the job market, it could create frustration for those who are in the market for a quick, inexpensive dinner out.

Did you change jobs during the pandemic? Are you thinking about it? NBC News wants to hear from you.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

Coronavirus Utah

FILE: Davis School District....
Mike Anderson

Davis School District adds resources to handle COVID-19

The Davis School District is shifting their approach to COVID, putting more decisions in the hands of parents while getting more funds to help monitor the virus.
2 days ago
Ashley Moser

Utah family hasn’t seen father in nearly 1,000 days due to COVID-19 travel restrictions

“None of us were expecting to not see him three years later,” a daughter shares how her Father remains in China.
4 days ago
ATLANTA, GA - UNDATED:  This undated handout photo from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevent...
Jed Boal

U of U researcher joins international team to confirm specific origin of COVID-19

New research released Tuesday confirmed the origin of COVID-19. A University of Utah Health and an international team of researchers found that the earliest cases of COVID-19 in humans emerged at a wholesale fish market in Wuhan, China in December 2019.
19 days ago
Only 50% of Utans are vaccinated and cases are surging because of the Omicron variant BA.5. FILE PH...
Jed Boal

BA.5 variant driving new surge of Utah COVID-19 cases

President Joe Biden’s positive Covid case Thursday was a sober reminder that Utah is not done fending off COVID-19 in many communities.
24 days ago
(File) Intermountain Healthcare Faculty in Murray....
Jed Boal

COVID-19 hospitalizations doubled, but mortality rate is low

Hospitals see an uptick in COVID hospitalizations due to a new infectious variant that is less lethal but more transmittable.
1 month ago
Intermountain Medical Center in Murray (KSL TV)...
Jed Boal

Researchers: Intermittent fasting provides protection against severe COVID-19

Doctors at Intermountain Healthcare have researched the health benefits of intermittent fasting for nearly a decade. Their latest discovery: intermittent fasting helps protect against severe COVID, but it is not a replacement for vaccination.
1 month ago

Sponsored Articles

tips how to quit smoking...

7 Tips How to Quit Smoking | Quitting Smoking Might be One of the Hardest Things You Ever Do but Here’s Where You Can Start

Quitting smoking cigarettes can be incredibly difficult. Here are 7 tips how to quit smoking to help you on your quitting journey.
Photo: Storyblocks...
Blue Stakes of Utah 811

Blue Stakes of Utah 811: 5 Reasons To Call 811 Before You Dig When Working in Your Yard

Call before you dig. Even at home, you could end up with serious injuries or broken utilities just because you didn't call Blue Stakes of Utah 811.
Days of...
Days of '47 Rodeo

TRIVIA: How well do you know your rodeo? Take this quiz before you go to the Days of ’47!

The Utah Days of ’47 Rodeo presented by Zions Bank is a one-of-a-kind Gold Medal Rodeo being held July 20-23, 25 at 7:30 PM. The Days of ’47 Rodeo How well do you know your rodeo trivia? Take the quiz to test your know-all before heading out to the Days of ’47 Rodeo at the […]
cyber security through multi factor authentication setup...
Les Olson IT

How multi factor authentication setup helps companies stay safe

Multi factor authentication (MFA) setup is an important security measure that every company should implement for their workers. It’s also wise to install it for your personal and home accounts.
Lighting Design

Check out these stunning lamps with stained glass shades

Lamps with stained glass shades are statement pieces that are more than simply aesthetic. They also meet a functional requirement: to light up a room.
Address Bar of internet browser shows internet access...

Utah voters 50+ support increased access to Internet

The AARP surveyed Utah voters aged 50 plus about internet access and if they support the expansion of broadband, especially in rural areas currently lacking it.
Where are the workers? Taking a closer look at Utah’s shifting labor force