TRENTON – An annual business survey finds nearly three of every four business owners experienced difficulties finding employees this year, with nearly as many raising wages in response.

In the 63rd annual business outlook survey by the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, 73% of respondents said it was a challenge to find staff, including 48% who said it was considerably challenging and 25% who said it was manageable.

Seventy-two percent of respondents said they had raised wages to attract employees, including 33% who said they raised pay by 5% or more. Half of the businesses with hiring issues said they increased wages higher than they wanted or could afford.

“It was clear that our businesses have been very challenged to find appropriate staffing in 2021, and that’s despite the fact that nearly three-quarters of them have already increased their wages,” said Chrissy Buteas, the NJBIA’s chief government affairs officer.

“Our businesses did report exactly what we were hearing, that there were a few different issues that were at play,” Buteas said. “Certainly, we heard about the unemployment benefits. We heard that folks were scheduling interviews and not showing up. We heard about child care concerns.”

Among employers who reported staffing challenges:

  • 57% had scheduled interviewees who didn’t show up; 46% had interviewees who canceled their interviews
  • 57% reported available staff was more stressed or burnt out
  • 49% had candidates who said they wanted to remain unemployed to collect unemployment benefits
  • 45% reported service to their customers suffered
  • 32% hired staff with lower qualifications
  • 27% had candidates who asked to be paid off the books so they could continue to collect unemployment
  • 26% had candidates who said child care challenges impacted their ability to return to work
  • 24% reduced their hours or the number of days they were open

Buteas said the challenge is to get people back to work as soon as possible. She said the concern goes beyond tourism and hospitality, industries that had a good but short-staffed summer.

“It’s so much more than that. Our manufacturers are out looking for employees, our engineers,” Buteas said. “So, we hear it across the board. This workforce challenge is not going away.”

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Slightly more businesses cited the availability of skilled labor as their biggest challenge than the perennial No. 1 concern, property taxes. And both those topics were eclipsed by the overall cost of doing business as the top concern of business owners.

The survey found that 13% of businesses increased hiring this year, while 34% said hiring decreased. But it also found some optimism: In 2022, 33% expect to hire more and 9% predict less.

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com.

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