If you are willing to work, Steve Newick is willing to drive to your home and give you a ride to Newick’s Lobster House in Dover.
Hiring is a huge challenge on the Seacoast and around the region, and folks in the restaurant industry are in need of innovative solutions. That’s how Newick came up with his ride-to-work program for the well-known restaurant on Dover Point Road.
“We started putting out ads early on, and we weren’t getting a lot of response,” said Newick, the third-generation owner of the restaurant. “I sat down with my employees and managers. We started talking about what factors could keep someone from applying, particularly here, because we’re kind of in the middle of nowhere. It’s a hard place to get to, and we thought that might be a factor we could help eliminate.”
There are no questions asked, Newick said, noting someone needing a ride could be facing any number of financial challenges and situations.
“We decided that we could just remove that challenge from the whole equation and say ‘we’ll give you a ride to work’,” Newick said. “I figure it would open these jobs up to a lot of people who want to work but are discouraged because they can’t get to work consistently enough. With the pandemic, we might be able to reach someone who stumbled and needs help getting back on their feet, or maybe someone just starting out. It’s not my place to judge.”
Newick has already received several applications after launching this initiative, one of whom started working last week.
“Gaining some good employees from this makes it all worth it,” Newick said. “My hope is that it removes one of the barriers keeping people from work.”
Restaurants like Newick’s that survived some of the hardest challenges they’ve ever had to face because of the pandemic are now desperate for workers as restrictions ease.
So if restaurant workers aren’t coming back after many of them were hit by layoffs, where exactly did they go?
The answer is not simple, according to Brian Gottlob, principal of Dover-based economic research firm PolEcon Research. He said the pandemic was a catalyst for a number of factors that fall like dominoes.
One of biggest hiring impediments for restaurants is simply a shrinking labor workforce, meaning less of a labor pool to attract. Gottlob said some former restaurant workers affected by pandemic layoffs or business closures chose to change careers entirely to make ends meet or retired early, due to pandemic-related financial pressures. Others have left the industry in a more temporary way, choosing to collect unemployment and the extra federal unemployment assistance.
“A lot of people did step out of the labor force over the last year, for a variety of reasons,” Gottlob said. “When the federal government created programs that extended unemployment insurance and benefits for people that allowed people to step out of the labor force for those various reasons like health, family or child-care issues. An additional $300 a week from the federal program might be the thing that makes the difference in your willingness to get back into the labor force.”
Because of the extension of the federal unemployment benefits, Gottlob suggests these hiring challenges may ease with Gov. Chris Sununu reinstating unemployment work-search requirements, but that won’t completely solve the difficulties restaurants are facing.