Help wanted: Staffing continues to be struggle for Shawnee businesses

Vicky O. Misa Tina Bridenstine
The Shawnee News-Star
Newton Wall Co., at 1600 N. Harrison, in Shawnee.

In Shawnee, dozens of banners, signs, posters and notices adorn lawns and storefronts of local businesses trying to entice potential employees to apply within.

This has been the case for several weeks.

In early July more than 40 help-wanted notices were readily visible along Harrison and Kickapoo — two of Shawnee's busiest commercial streets. The situation hasn't changed. Most, if not all of those sites, have signs that remain, and more stores are jumping in for a shot at potential employees.

Staci Hascall, general manager with Express Employment Professionals in Shawnee, said despite doing really well in 2020, the job placement company has struggled this year.

In the nine years she's been with the company, Hascall said every year there's a new challenge to face.

Braum's Ice Cream and Dairy Store, at 4735 N. Kickapoo, in Shawnee.

“But this year is probably the largest recruiting crunch I have seen,” she said. “Here recently, there's more companies looking for workers than there are people ready to go to work.”

Hascall said Express was averaging probably 26 interviews a week, and that's pretty slow for the Shawnee office.

“We'll have a really good couple of days and then nobody comes in our doors. It's been really inconsistent,” she said.

But lately she's seen a change.

Qdoba Mexican Eats, at 4621 N. Kickapoo, in Shawnee.

“We did 50-something interviews last week, and placed 46 people, I think, which is great for right now,” she said. “I think we're starting to pick up a little bit. I don't know. I've been saying that for two months.”

There's just nobody wanting to go to work, she said.

“It seems like the extra unemployment benefits are forcing companies everywhere to increase their starting wages for entry level positions and for also the skilled positions,” she said. “We've seen a lot of that across the board with companies we've worked for.”

Newton Wall Co. Warehouse Operations Manager Roy Turner has a similar account.

In July he said over the past several months the collection of job applications for potential employees has increasingly slowed.

“I try to take applications regularly and it's hard to do right now,” he said. “We went from getting eight to 10 a week to being lucky to get two per week.”

Fred's Tire and Battery, at 2533 N. Harrison, in Shawnee.

Turner, who oversees hiring for Newton Wall's warehouse, said after the COVID-19 pandemic began, staff stayed full until about October.

The warehouse typically employs about 80, he said, but in July was at 68.

“It's because of all the free money,” he said. “They can make more staying home.”

Turner said the situation of operating with a short staff won't kill the company, but it does make it tough.

“Hopefully something will change soon,” he said.

Whatever the reason for the overabundance of job opportunities right now, the bright side is that job-seekers should have no difficulty finding places to submit applications.

Shawnee Forward CEO Rachael Melot said there could be many factors causing a gap in staffing.

Taco Bell, at 4837 N. Kickapoo, in Shawnee.

Some include the eligibility of many folks to retire who took the opportunity during COVID-19, she said last month.

Also, many entry level people took better jobs or more stable positions, she said, which opened up some entry level positions; and with many manufacturing plants restoring jobs — it seems everyone is hiring.

Seeking help

It's become commonplace to see multiple businesses within the same block competing for applicants.

McDonald's at 1411 N. Harrison is hoping better pay will bring in help — stating available jobs are starting at more than $11 per hour, according to its sign. Just across the street, at 1416 N. Harrison, Taco Bell is still offering positions. Next door, at 1414 N. Harrison, Jimmy's Egg is hiring.

The situation remains similar north of town and around the Shawnee Marketplace.

City Bites, at 2603 N. Kickapoo, in Shawnee.

On the 4600 block of North Kickapoo, a Sonic Drive-In, Mazzio's, McAlister's Deli, Chick-Fil-A and Qdoba still have notices out in an effort to bring in workers.

Just up the street, Sancho Ancho, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen and Taco Bell are looking for help, as well.

Some of the businesses that have multiple sites in town are so understaffed they need employees to fill gaps at some or all their stores, like Sonic, Taco Bell and Arby's.

Bar H Bar Branding Iron Bar and Grill was forced to make some changes because of the lack of workers.

“We will no longer serve breakfast at Bar H Bar Branding Iron,” a Aug. 24 Facebook post reads. “The recent uptick in COVID-19 activity combined with an extreme lack of available staffing has given us no choice but to cut our hours of operation.”

Freddy's Frozen Custard and Steakburgers, at 4520 Marketplace Blvd., in Shawnee.

And the list of businesses affected by the situation goes on — and, no, they are not all restaurants trying to secure a full staff.

While most may assume the vacancies are all entry-level positions at fast food restaurants, that does not appear to be the case. Over the weeks, manager posts have been sought at places like Sonic and Schlotzsky's.

Almost half of the businesses with help wanted signs aren't food related at all. Many options deal in retail, banking and grocery stores.

Fred's Tire and Battery and Hibdon Tires Plus have been searching for staffers.

Both Homeland grocery stores in town and the Arvest Bank site at 4500 N. Harrison are still in need of employees.

Shawnee Cleaners and Laundry, Tener's, Ross Dress For Less, Cato and Dollar Tree also are among retailers continuing to seek applicants for jobs.

Central Disposal, Sunbelt Credit, Tractor Supply Co. and Shawnee Bowl have openings, as well.

Chick-Fil-A, at 4637 N. Kickapoo, in Shawnee.

Even many large chains, such as Braum's, Cricket, Cracker Barrel, Chili's, Panda Express, Freddy's Custard and Steakburgers, City Bites, Rib Crib and Marco's Pizza continue to seek candidates to fill gaps in staffing.

Some new job opportunities include: Communication Federal Credit Union, Jay's Hallmark, Harbor Freight, Petsmart, Supercuts, Papa John's, Pizza Hut, Carl's Jr., Buffalo Wild Wings, Long John Silver's, Kohl's, Taco Bueno, Spirits Wine and Liquor and Chicken Express.

There are doubtless more jobs available than just at sites with visible banners out front.

Watch for updates.

For story ideas, questions or concerns, reporter Vicky O. Misa can be reached at vicky.misa@news-star.com.