CAPE COD — An endangered species is fighting for survival on Cape Cod. Seasonal workers are in dangerously short supply.
Tourists are being told to prepare for long waits and that they’ll have to pay more for just about everything when they visit this summer.
“Right now, we have six people in the kitchen and three dishwashers, three bartenders, and a couple of food runners, so it’s about a third of what we need,” said Tyler Hayes, the owner of The Flying Bridge in Falmouth.
The sign in front of The Flying Bridge tells the story of Cape Cod businesses right now. One side says they’re hiring for all positions. The other indicates they’re only open a few days a week due to the labor shortage.
“We are on every media site,” Hayes said. “We are looking for help from everywhere and we just can’t find it.”
Just about every business on Cape Cod is displaying help wanted signs.
“We’re hearing a lot of panic in the sounds from the employers we’re talking to recently that are coming to the realization that they don’t have access to their staff,” said Joe Bishop, a consultant with Peak Workforce Solutions, which helps seasonal businesses get temporary workers from overseas.
“We actually had a conversation with a client last week that has realized that it’s going to be easier for him to hire potential illegal workers and face fines that could be issued by the government for doing that, just so he can keep his business alive, added Bishop.
The Polar Cave in Mashpee is scooping ice cream on a limited basis right now. “Expect long lines because we’re short-staffed,” said owner Mark Lawrence. “There is no business that has enough employees to provide the service that you require.”
So far, Lawrence says he only has 5 of 17 employees that he needs for the busy summer season.
Some of the worker shortage is due to a lack of local teens who are willing to pick up part-time jobs, according to Lawrence. College students who don’t come for the summer anymore due to the high cost of housing is another compounding factor said, Lawrence.
“The country club behind us bought a motel for employee housing. A million and a half dollars for a motel for employee housing for the summer” said an exasperated Lawrence.
Moves like that are not an option for most small businesses which are finding themselves in a vise. “Right now, I’m going to pay someone to walk in the door a minimum of 15 bucks an hour just to teach them how to push a broom,” said Lawrence. “Then people go wow, $6, $7, $8, $9, $10 for an ice cream, you’re like hello!”
Hayes added “You’re going to see it reflected in your menu prices. You’re going to be going out to dinner pretty soon and you’ll be paying $20 for a hamburger.”
Passing on higher labor costs is a reality of doing business, but Hayes says the Cape might be reaching a tipping point. “We’re going to see a big shift here where it’s not going to be a tourist destination . † † once people realize the wait times and everything else they’re going to have to go thru. They’re not going to want to come and it’s a shame.”
Lawrence echoed that sentiment. “It’s going to be very challenging. A lot of businesses aren’t going to be here next year. There will be a lot of mom-and-pop businesses that just can’t make it.”
The federal government is expected to release more seasonal visas at some point, but business owners are concerned that it would be in time to help this season’s crunch.
They added that finding housing for these workers will be next to impossible.
As for tourists, Hayes said he expects a three-hour wait for a table to be the norm this summer.
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