EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — Despite being able to function at 100-percent capacity, area businesses are struggling to hire employees, according to restaurant owners and job experts.

Kassandra Maillard, co-owner of Sabertooth Food and Co., said now that they’ve been busier, they need the extra set of hands, but are struggling to find them.

“Especially in our kitchen, where we are hiring for any kitchen position right now, prep line, cook, part-time, full time,” she said.

Maillard said her restaurant had to scale back on employees when the pandemic was in full force in 2020. Some came back, but others did not for a variety of reasons.

“Whether it be people have been able to find other sources of income or have been prioritizing on different things like going back to school or focusing on just one job for example, so there could be a multitude of reasons why its been kind of difficult for us to kind of navigate,” Maillard said.

Maillard said Sabertooth’s patio is operating at 100-percent capacity, but they’re still closed for indoor dining for the time being. She said they hope to open up soon, however.

“We’re hoping summertime might free up some people or regardless of what may be happening, it’s a great environment to work in here,” Maillard said.

Driving down Mesa Street, several other restaurants had banners with “Now Hiring” signs.

Job experts, such as Cindy Ramos-Davidson, CEO of the El Paso Chamber of Commerce, said the restaurant industry suffered through many challenges throughout the pandemic. Now, they continue overcoming obstacles like a labor shortage.

“Now they have the cards stacked against them since they have been shutdown and reopened and so the labor shortage has been pretty tough for the restaurant industry,” Ramos-Davidson said.

Ramos-Davidson said many employees may have moved on to other industries when they first were either furloughed or let go. She said women make up a large fraction of employees who may be unable to return to the workforce so soon.

“In addition, we’ve got a lot of women who are head of households who have to stay at home with their children if they’re not back in school,” Ramos-Davidson said. “They were part of that industry, it makes it really difficult for them to get back in that industry.”

Workforce Solutions Borderplex said the El Paso region is down in unemployment overall — at about 8 percent, which is down from the 14 percent to 15 percent it was at the peak of the pandemic. However, job experts say it’s still a long way from El Paso’s pre-pandemic 3 percent unemployment rate.

Bianca Cervantes, communications director of Workforce Solutions Borderplex, said another major component is pay and living wages.

Cervantes said the living wage in El Paso is around $12.50 an hour, adding that many on unemployment may not be ready to go back to a workforce where they won’t reach this wage.

“We start thinking about what wages in the Borderland are, are they high enough, are people making that living wage and is this something that employers as a whole need to reconsider,” Cervantes said.

The Workforce Solutions Borderplex formula considers the following expenses in calculating living wage:

Child care
Health care
Other necessities

For employers looking for resources or people looking for job assistance, Workforce Solutions Borderplex has a list of resources HERE.

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