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Restaurants face competition for workers

As the restaurant industry slogs its way out of the recession, other retail sectors are increasingly competing for and luring away trained and talented workers, experts said during the recent People Report Workforce Symposium.

High unemployment and its resulting large pool of eager job candidates is actually masking intense competition for skilled and trained workers, panelists told nearly 200 restaurant recruiting and training executives attending the conference, which was held June 8-10 in Frisco, Texas.

“We are already experiencing recruitment difficulty at both ends of the spectrum,” said Joni Doolin, founder and chief executive of People Report, from the highly skilled positions like information technology and functional positions like human-resources and marketing executives to entry-level positions.

The jobless rate has produced a large number of potential candidates, but finding the right match for skills is a challenge. Louis J. Basile Jr., president and chief executive of Wildflower Bread Co. of Scottsdale, Ariz., said he will open his 11th store on June 15, and he had 500 applicants for 50 available positions.

“I’m going to trust that people know what to do,” Basile said. “Let’s hire great people who are passionate about serving great food.”

The training that restaurant companies provide workers also is attractive to other retail employers. The symposium’s “Undercover Competitors” panel featured executives, most with backgrounds in foodservice, from such companies as United Health Group, Gold’s Gym and Winn-Dixie Stores Inc.

“The message was very clear to restaurateurs in the room: ‘If we want to have our share of the brightest and best, we’d better pay attention.’ We do have competition,” Doolin said. “They do want to hire people from the foodservice industry. They are well-trained.”

Human resources executives are among the early adopters and avid users of social media, such as Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare, with many using the technology as tools in their hiring and recruiting.

“I believe people need community and connection more desperately than we’ve ever needed it,” Doolin said. “People want to be affiliated. People want to share. People need to be part of something that’s bigger than they are. … And because we have been hunkered down for over two years now, people are starved for it. They are starved for fun.”

Using social media is imperative when it comes recruiting younger job candidates, she said.

“When you are reaching out, in particular, to younger workers and more tech savvy workers, you’ll be invisible unless you have a presence in social media,” Doolin said.

Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected].

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