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Simmons: Another reason behind the restaurant labor shortage

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Bernie Simmons is the owner of Balloons Steakhouse on Washington Street in Auburn.

Here is a story that I believe needs attention. In the hospitality world, the labor pool has continued to shrink for the last 10 years. Everyone thinks it is something new and strictly attached to the people who are on unemployment. I believe that is not the correct answer to this problem, but it is the easiest one.

The sector of the labor market in our industry that is almost non-existent anymore is the high school kids. Back when I turned 14 years old, I got my working papers and have worked ever since, so 49 years. All of my friends also worked; a lot of us were dishwashers at various Auburn restaurants and all of us have gone on to have a very successful life.

In my view what has changed are a couple of major things. First is the fact that sports activities have taken over a lot of high school kids' time, especially during the summer. Back in the 1970s, if I recall correctly, coaches couldn’t have access to their players during the off seasons. We all played baseball all summer in Babe Ruth or American Legion ball or on a playground basketball team. Today there is a camp for every sport locally that usually last several weeks. Then there are the leagues that kids are playing in and the travel teams they are playing with and the out-of-town and state camps kids are attending.

The second factor is "the parents.” No longer do they encourage their children to get a part-time job and see what’s its like to have your own money that you worked for, instead of just doling out the dollars. So what happens when these kids don’t get the college scholarship the parents were hoping for because of the aforementioned activities and lack of a parental push. These kids at 17 and 18 years of age can make a jump shot, cradle a lacrosse ball and throw it 80 miles an hour or hit a baseball/softball over the fence, but they are not prepared for the workforce in case Plan A doesn’t happen.

So it would be interesting to see just how many of the 300-plus Auburn High School graduates are a member or have contributed to the work force in Auburn.

I have personally been affected at my two places of business. I have had to close because of inadequate staffing. Our patrons expect and deserve a certain level of service when they step through our doors, and if I feel we cannot deliver this, I would rather be closed. So keep that in mind when you are looking for a reservation at a local favorite restaurant and it is closed that night.

My wife and myself raised five children in Auburn they all played sports, and also worked at least a couple nights a week. Many of you know my children as they chose to stay living right here in Auburn. They all have a full-time job and help to contribute to the vitality of this community. Please don’t turn a blind eye to this or possibly think, who is he to tell us our kids should get a job. I am not saying that, I am just bringing it to your attention as it is critical to the hospitality sector's survival.

Thank you for listening. God bless you all.

Bernie Simmons is the owner of Balloons Steakhouse and co-owner of cocktail bar A.T. Walley & Co. in Auburn.


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