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Businesses hopeful about hiring workers as Kentucky resumes unemployment work search requirement

For businesses like Against the Grain, it's welcome news as it is in the midst of re-hiring staff ahead of the re-opening of its flagship brewery.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — "We're hiring" signs are plastered all over Louisville across all industries, as businesses try to fill empty positions. As they deal with staffing shortages, Kentucky has reinstated its unemployment work search requirement this week. 

The mandate was removed during the pandemic last year, which requires anyone receiving unemployment benefits to show proof of searching for work. 

For Against The Grain, it's welcome news as it is in the midst of re-hiring staff ahead of the re-opening of its flagship brewery. ATG's smokehouse and brewery located in Slugger Field closed its doors because of the pandemic one year ago this week.

"It has been challenging, I mean it's heartbreaking actually," Co-owner Sam Cruz said.

Sitting empty all this time, it will soon fill back up as they plan to re-open by June 1st. ATG also hopes to open its new ventures, the Against The Grain Sandwich Emporium and The Flamingo Lounge by mid-July.

"To see the light at the end of the tunnel, I mean I really see the light now," Cruz said. "I'm so so excited, I mean so, so excited. I can see it, I love it.”

One challenge with re-opening, like so many other businesses, is finding staff to fill open positions.

"We've hired 11 cooks thus far and I'm astounded that we were able to do that. We need 20," Cruz said. "We're in a situation where we're very excited about what the potential is to bring people in.”

Finding it difficult to get resumes on the table, Cruz said Kentucky re-instating the work search requirement is one step that will hopefully help them hire.

"A lot of people in the service industry moved on to different industries. That’s just the reality we all have to accept and I don’t blame them. I understand. But in that happening the job pool for us got really shallow and scary," Cruz said. "It's been kind of dramatic for us but we've been able to rehire some of those key positions.”

"Clearly creating what we would call in economics a 'nudge.' A little push to get people to do a little more to be looking out there to see what's available in the job market," Michael Gritton said. 

KentuckianaWorks Director Michael Gritton said the change should help push workers back to the workforce, with more jobs available right now than there are applicants.

“I think this nudge is going to get more people looking and as they look I think they're going to be pleasantly surprised to see the range of employers that are hiring and what they're offering to pay people," Gritton said. "That competition is good for workers and I think many people will be lured back into the workforce for all the right reasons.”

Gritton attributes the workforce shortage to some still holding cautious about the ongoing pandemic, while others are dealing with childcare issues with schools or daycare centers not back full-time. 

"It may be a gradual return we see, rather than a jump or a spike because I think a lot of people are going to need to make those decisions gradually," Gritton said. 

He said it may be August, at least, before workers fully return to the job market. But, once they do, Gritton said they shouldn't have any trouble finding work in what's considered a "job-seeker's market" right now. 

"Wage levels are starting to creep up which makes jobs more attractive to people sometimes. Some companies are offering signing bonuses," Gritton said. "All of those things help adjust supply and demand which is exactly what we should be doing coming out of the pandemic but not out of it yet.”

"We're really experiencing a major workforce crunch right now," Greater Louisville Inc. Executive Director, Sarah Davasher- Wisdom, said.

GLI, the metro chamber of commerce, said it's concerned re-instating the work search requirement for those receiving unemployment benefits won't be enough to get people off unemployment and back to work.

"We think the work requirement re-instatement will help get people back in the workforce. But at the same time we need to not extend the unemployment benefits beyond the September end date," she said. "We're very concerned were not going to be able to get people back into the workforce.”

Like many businesses struggling to staff up right now, Cruz said ATG, if it can't fill all positions by the time it -reopens, will have to make changes.

"If we're unable to meet the staffing needs, we'll adjust our hours in a manner where we're able to satisfy the bulk of our guests," Cruz said. 

Cruz said customers can expect to return to a "new and improved" smokehouse and brewery as soon as their doors re-open within the month.

GLI said it is currently working on a job board with Louisville Forward and Louisville Tourism to provide job openings for those looking. 

KentuckianaWorks also provides free career resources and training options for those seeking employment by visiting KentuckianaWorks.org or calling (502) 388-3010.

The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce has open jobs throughout the state on its website here. 

Contact reporter Tyler Emery at temery@WHAS11.com. Follow her on Twitter (@TylerWHAS11) and Facebook.

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