Tim Chatfield, the CEO of Jitjatjo, a staffing marketplace that supports recovery by finding talent and reimagining labor models for organizations in hospitality, education, healthcare and facilities, chatted with FSR about the current landscape and what to expect.
We’ve all heard a lot about this “labor crisis” of late. What are you hearing or seeing?
The hospitality industry is seeing a labor shortage across the board, whether that’s restaurants, hotels, etc. The jobs are there, but there is a lack of talent ready and willing to fill them in cities across the country. Businesses are seeing similar patterns and are working through the same issues - the demand is there and is increasing as the country reopens, but workers are not rushing back to their previous jobs (or jobs in general) as businesses expected.
What do you think is causing the shortage? Do you buy into the idea that it’s related to expanded unemployment, or is there more going on here?
While unemployment benefits are certainly a major cause for the labor shortage right now, the root of the issue is far deeper than that. We believe that over the past year, people have taken the time to reevaluate their career paths and many workers have transitioned out of the hospitality industry. Others have ongoing requirements to care for their loved ones (children not back in school, sick/elderly relatives etc.) and/or they are temporarily relocated. Some have started their own businesses during quarantine or time being furloughed and have carved out other paths for themselves.
How do you think all of this will reimagine the labor model? In other words, will there be a lasting effect from the current shortage?
Pre-COVID there was already movement towards more flexible labor models and we are seeing momentum accelerate and be validated through independent research firms such as Gartner and McKinsey. There is also an expectation of a more equitable employment relationship, sense of shared purpose, and need for deeper connections, or as Gartner calls it, the "New Employment Deal.” So yes, there will be a lasting effect for businesses that remain stuck in their old ways of thinking and do not evolve their value proposition to potential employees.
Tell us about Jitjatjo. What does your platform do, and how has it helped restaurants battle some of these issues?
Jitjatjo is a workforce management platform and talent marketplace that services the hospitality, retail, education, healthcare, and facilities industries by providing vetted, qualified talent. We currently service Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Washington D.C., and Illinois with upcoming plans for expansion south and along the sun-belt. We connect people with part-time flexible work that aligns with their skills, qualifications, preferences, and schedules giving our talent the power to create a work/life balance that suits their individual needs. We’re able to help restaurants, and other businesses fill open shifts with qualified talent that they may have lost over the last year. Many workers are not ready to commit to full time work for many reasons, and our platform allows those individuals the flexibility to find opportunities that fit their needs. While much of our talent is looking specifically for part-time work, many do find full time careers through our platform. The core of our mission is human betterment, so we’re also able to help talent who might want to explore a new industry gain the training and skills they need to succeed. For example, the skills utilized by cleaners could easily translate to a dishwashing role and those who have worked as greeters previously have the foundational building blocks to serve in a host or hostess role at a restaurant. We’re all about helping people reach their full potential and have seen great success in helping people reskill.
We talk a lot about why people don’t want to work today. What are some reasons they do?
There is a lot to be said about the upside to working right now.
The pandemic had an undeniable impact on the mental health of workers across the world and having a regularly scheduled obligation or commitment like a job elicits feelings of being needed and important and also helps maintain a steady schedule which, after a year of such unpredictability, can offer a sense of calm. Part time work, like the jobs we connect our talent with at Jitjatjo, allows for increased flexibility, scheduling freedom, skill development and ultimately, allows workers to take control of their own career paths. Plus, we’re able to ensure talent is compensated upon the completion of their shift, which eliminates the waiting period for the next paycheck.
How can restaurants improve their employee-value proposition past just paying more?
Restaurants, and business in general, need to be open to offering more flexibility with shift scheduling. Demonstrating openness for employees needing to take a shorter afternoon for a personal appointment, pick up a child from daycare or whatever the case may be is a gesture that goes a long way. Knowing you have a supportive team behind you eases stress and anxiety, boosts happiness, and ultimately productivity, in the workplace which is a win-win for all involved. Additionally, giving employees faster access to their pay helps attract workers. For example, at Jitjatjo we offer Instant Pay to our talent at the end of their shift if they meet our service quality and eligibility criteria. This not only gives them faster access to their pay, it rewards them for a job well done.
But speaking of that, how much of this issue is a wage issue?
There has been a lot of chatter around the notion that many industry workers are making more on unemployment than they would working. This does indicate that there is a conversation around wage that needs to happen across the entire industry, restaurants included, but there are also caveats to that conversation including what raising minimum wage would mean for restaurant ownership. At Jitjatjo, we have paid above minimum wage from inception to help us attract quality workers. We have also recently deployed a survey to our talent pool of over 10,000-plus to gather additional, direct feedback on these patterns so we can identify the less obvious issues. The industry has assumptions but we need data to understand the "why" so we can provide the ride solutions and get people back to work faster.
If you could look six months into the future, what do you think the next big labor challenge will be? And how can restaurants prepare for it?
In six months from now, we believe the enhanced unemployment insurance payments will have concluded. However, the demand for hospitality workers will have also increased as more businesses will have re-opened so the labor market will still be tight. There will also be an enhanced focus on employee engagement and retention to help ease the talent acquisition burden. Being aware of these issues now and starting to plan/implement strategies as soon as the hurdles of reopening are overcome, will help set restaurants up for success.