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Desperate for workers, Charleston hotels and restaurants rush to hire as summer approaches

On Wednesday, with a clipboard in hand, Briana Hurdle wrote down the words “as soon as possible” for a potential start date.

The 30-year-old had circled the hours for each day of the week when asked about her availability. Her grandmother, Luz Espada, stood next to her and did the same.

At a career fair that featured more than 40 employers from Charleston’s hospitality industry, the two women moved between the booths, both looking for jobs that promised constant hard work and hours. regular.

In Charleston, a world-renowned tourist destination where hospitality is at the heart of both its distinguished Southern brand and the health of its regional economy, the need for workers like Hurdle and Espada in restaurants and hotels has reached its peak. paroxysm.

At most kiosks, employers said they were hiring between 10 and 20 positions that day. Some, like Kiawah Island Golf Resort, posted a list of nearly 60 open positions.

Espada and Hurdle confessed to never working in a hotel or restaurant. At each booth, they hoped that their willingness to learn would be sufficient.

“We both love to clean. We don’t mind doing it, and we’re good at it, ”said Hurdle, explaining why she thought a housekeeping job might be a good fit for them.

“We don’t know much about restaurants, but we know how to do the dishes,” Espada said, reviewing listings on GigPro, an app that offers daily service jobs.

A desperate need

Ahead of the all-day career fair, Jill Maynard, executive director of the Lowcountry Hospitality Association, said restaurants and hotels in the area are facing a severe shortage of employees. Typically, this is when these visitor-dependent businesses prepare for the summer season.

Instead, they still face staffing issues.

“Some hotels have reported that if they can’t get the rooms cleaned and repaired, they’re going to have to start closing reservations for those rooms,” Maynard said. “If there is no chef to prepare the meal and someone to deliver it to the table, what are the restaurants supposed to do?”

It’s a new struggle against South Carolina’s economy nearly a year ago, when the coronavirus pandemic shut down much of the state and resulted in a record 89,147 claims for initial unemployment during the first week of April.

Despite the ongoing economic rebound, the lasting effect of the pandemic is reflected in the hospitality industry.

Michelle Lannou, human resources generalist at the Belmond Charleston Place hotel, said the pandemic had caused a drop in the number of applicants they would typically see.

“After the pandemic a lot of people had to take a second look and really think about their future and had to find other ways to find an income and unfortunately for some reason hospitality and food and drink. were not there, ”Lannou said.

While Belmond Charleston Place remains busy with visitors, Lannou said they just need more people to work there.

Lannou launched this plea for the former employees of the hospitality industry in the Charleston area: “Come back”.

What about candidates like Hurdle and Espada, who have never worked in the hospitality industry before?

“Come in,” she said.

A desperate need

Briana Hurdle and Luz Espada discuss employment opportunities with Kyle Tyner, far right, general manager of the Courtyard Charleston Historic District hotel. Hurdle and Espada attended a Charleston Hospitality Industry Career Fair on Wednesday, April 7, 2021. Caitlin Byrd / The State

Hurdle moved to North Charleston in February to be closer to his grandmother. After more than five years of work in healthcare in Connecticut, she sought similar work in home care here.

But she found the hours too inconsistent.

“I can’t just sit there and wait,” Hurdle said. “I need regular hours.”

Earlier Wednesday, she received the dreaded call, once again, that her home care client did not need her to work that day. They also didn’t need her to work the rest of the week.

For Hurdle, not working is not an option. With two children aged 11 and 6, Hurdle has to provide for her children.

She also had to replace her 2008 Jeep Liberty after continuing to flee. Now she has a 2019 Subaru Crosstrek and a new car payment that comes in every month even though her home care employer calls her to tell her he doesn’t have a job for her.

Espada, 65, wants to find more part-time work. She now has a part-time job, but Espada said her days were still too empty. She said she wanted to fill them with meaningful work.

Although they initially looked for housekeeping jobs, Espada encouraged her granddaughter to try and do more.

“You would be good at the reception,” Espada said, urging him to circle a job at the reception. “You are good with people.”

So Hurdle surrounded him.

“They seemed open to trying something new, and that’s really what we’re looking for, they are people who are interested, who want to work and who don’t just need to work but who want to work and find a place. where they feel valued, ”said Sarah Jones, director of human resources at Charleston Marriott.

In response to the pandemic, Jones said the Charleston Marriott decided to increase its hourly rate for housekeepers to $ 14 an hour. The pandemic, she said, has provided an opportunity for companies to reflect on how to better serve their employees in the hospitality industry.

Other hotel officials, who declined to be cited for the story, confirmed they were offering signing bonuses of up to $ 750 to get people back to work.

“It’s hard work,” Jones said of housekeeping jobs and other service industry jobs. “They sweat 8 hours a day and deserve over $ 11 and an hour. They deserve to be at the top of entry-level positions. “

Wiping the sweat from his brow, Hurdle looked around and realized that she and her “Gigi” had been in contact with all of the job fair hotels.

A chance

Desperate for workers, Charleston hotels and restaurants rush to hire as summer approaches

Luz Espada, left, discusses the pros and cons with her granddaughter, Briana Hurdle, after the couple attended a hospitality industry career fair on Wednesday, April 7, 2021. “Some of these places offer bonuses, ”Espada said of Charleston hotels. “There is a lot to consider.” Caitlin Byrd / The State

It was then, after nearly an hour, Hurdle and Espada found a moment of relief. The pair made their way to a nearby shade patch, where a food truck was serving tacos to employers and job seekers.

At El Jefe’s food truck, which is also hiring, Hurdle ordered two Sprites. At a table, Espada reviewed the pile of papers and brochures gathered at the job fair.

As Hurdle leafed through her applications, she smiled.

“I feel better now. I feel like I’m kind of lucky,” Hurdle said.

What she had heard all day from each of the booths was that the hotels needed it.

It was a refreshing change of pace for Hurdle, who over the past two months found herself clicking through what looked like a rabbit hole of job postings that never ended where she thought they would. .

After a brief discussion of salary and benefits, signing bonuses, and location, they picked two main choices: Charleston Marriott and Belmond Charleston Place hotel. But they’re not going to limit themselves either. They plan to apply at all the hotels they connected with on Wednesday.

“All of them,” Espada said.

When the women got back to their car, they kept it in the park and started filling out applications.

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