Business owners hope job fairs can fill in the gap of J1 students this year

SNOW HILL, Md. – As business owners in places like Ocean City struggle to stay afloat without their regular number of J1 workers, many are now turning to locals for help. “It’s definitely created a large gap, especially the back of the house positions in the restaurant – and for most hourly positions like our miniature golf course and things like that,” said BLU Crabhouse and Embers restaurant co-owner Cole Tauston.

Tauston says that the extra help from locals is needed. “The summer is grueling under normal circumstances, and to put this extra level on this early in the season, it’s something we’ve always wanted to avoid,” said Tauston.

The Open Air Job Fair was held in Snow Hill Wednesday. Worcester County’s director of tourism Melanie Pursel says one of the goals was to connect businesses with locals looking for work. “Right now we’re really trying to connect with people on the lower shore in Worcester County that may be have been laid off or furloughed, so they can come out and really help Ocean City,” said Pursel.

Seacrets kitchen manager Mike Semsker says that finding locals to take seasonal jobs could help them get through the season, but it’s not so easy filling those spots. “The people that would normally fill those jobs were the J1 workers. The locals that fill those jobs – and they’ve been on unemployment – are currently receiving more money from unemployment than they would if they went back to work,” said Semsker.

Tauston says that hiring locals for the seasonal jobs will play a big role in helping restaurants survive. He tells 47ABC that being short staffed means risking high levels of service. “You’re having to work short staffed. You’re having to do things – you have to cut corners normally wouldn’t want to cut, like having a smaller menu and reducing the amount of service you can provide,” said Tauston.

Semsker agrees – and says that on some days, Seacrets can only operate out of one of their two kitchens because of short staffing. “We’re only able to function out of one kitchen as opposed to both kitchens, which is causing longer lines and all that kind of stuff,” said Semsker.

Pursel tells 47ABC that she hopes Wednesday’s job fair will help fill that gap – especially for a town like Ocean City, which relies on the tourism industry in the summer. “The demand is there. The guests are here. Occupancy rates are high in hotels. So we really need the employees and workers to help serve our guests especially in the seasonal businesses,” said Pursel.

Pursel says that she wants people to remember that job opportunities for American workers come first, especially during economic uncertainty. She says that J1 workers are a supplemental workforce, and she’s confident locals will be able to step up in their absence. “We don’t know what the situation will be with the J1 students. We’re hoping that we won’t be in this position next year, but I will say the intention of that program is to be a cultural exchange program,” said Pursel.

Organizers say that they’re looking at the possibility of doing similar events to this one in the future.

Categories: Business, Coronavirus, Local News, Maryland