TAMPA, Fla. — As we start to see more people comfortable and venturing out after getting the COVID-19 vaccine, many businesses say they have seen more customers and now have a larger demand for employees. While some businesses say they have not been able to find employees, unemployed people say they are desperately trying to get back on their feet.
A single mother of four, Giselle Morales has been unemployed since last March.
“I did look for work for many, many months since the pandemic, thinking that in August 2020, my kids will be able to go back in full and face-to-face,” she said. “But, as we all know, the pandemic took off even more. We had more cases again.”
She suffers from an autoimmune disorder and says one of her kids has a heart murmur.
“I cannot take the risk of my children becoming ill and bringing it home,” said Morales.
Instead — they’re enrolled in virtual learning in Orange County, an area with an unemployment rate of 5.5%. That is nearly an entire percentage point higher than the Tampa Bay area at 4.7%.
“I’d say if there’s a business that’s fully staffed, they are a needle in a haystack out here on the beaches,” said Robin Miller, the President of the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce.
Along the coast, Miller says the job market is sizzling with businesses hiring, “Front of the house, back of the house, sales, marketing, all of it.”
The Tradewinds resort is now looking to fill at least 100 positions immediately.
“This is a great opportunity for people that were in a career path that maybe didn’t have a reason to leave and now they’ve got a chance to look and see what else there is,” said Alexis Hoffstadter, the Director of Culture and Training at Tradewinds Islands Resort.
It's bright news still shadowed by a loss of nearly 22,700 hospitality and leisure jobs in the Tampa area, according to the latest state data. It’s also one of the industries slowest to come back.
Miller says many people went into other industries to survive last year, which is why with even fewer hospitality jobs returning, there’s still such a need to fill positions.
It’s why the chamber now offering job placement services to help introduce applicants to hiring businesses.
“Instead of the businesses having to leave and go sit at job fairs, sign out of their business and check out and do that and instead of applicants having to go up and down Gulf Boulevard and scour those businesses or their websites they can send that resume directly to our office or drop it off,” she said. “And we will disseminate the resume to all of the members that have prescribed to the job placement service.”
Plus, she says these jobs aren’t just entry-level positions — a recent job came across her desk looking to pay a base salary of $48,000 a year with benefits
Tradewinds is offering a $500 sign-on bonus after an employee’s first four months with hopes it will entice folks to come back to work.
“We know that there’s a lot going on right now where we’re just trying to rise to the challenge and meet the expectations of what people are looking for,” said Hoffstadter.
But, people who are unemployed say they had a rough go last year. ABC Action News spoke to many of them and heard their stories. Some lost cars, others were kicked out of their homes. Morales admits she was very close to being evicted at one point.
“We live in Florida, the cost of living is ridiculous in Florida,” she said. “Let’s be honest here, it’s not about being lazy, it’s about needing to be a mother first, and in these hard times I have to be a mom first.”
Miller says counties need to be investing in better public transportation for folks who may not have a car.
Forward Pinellas is currently conducting a survey to better understand the needs in disadvantaged communities when it comes to transportation, jobs, education, and housing to hopefully remove any barriers standing in the way.
“We’re on the bus line a lot of our employees don’t have transportation either,” said Hoffstadter. “A lot of our employees will carpool together.”
Above all Morales wants people to have a little empathy as she, and thousands of others that are still unemployed, get back on their feet.
“There’s not a lot of compassion, I feel like nowadays it’s every man for themselves,” she said.
Feeding Tampa Bay has a program called FRESHforce which provides workforce development and on-the-job training in three industries, culinary, warehouse logistics, and truck driving.
Students will earn money while completing the program and learn customer service, interview and resume writing skills. Plus at the end, an industry-standard certification that can give you a leg up.
89 people have graduated from the program so far and have gone on to work at places like Publix, WAWA, and Colonial Distributing to name a few. Folks currently enrolled in the program will start Monday and the next open registration will be early this fall. Barista training will come this summer.
Feeding Tampa Bay says not only does this program help get people back to work, but it creates a coalition of several different agencies addressing food insecurity.