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Lots of jobs, few job seekers for hospitality openings in New Orleans

“I’m going to find something that’s going to make me happy and I’m going to be a loyal employee,” said Christine Harris.

NEW ORLEANS — If you’re looking for a job or if you're unemployed, the local hospitality industry says there’s work and money waiting for you.

On Wednesday, New Orleans & Co., which drives the marketing for tourism in the city, held a so-called “job fest." It comes as one of the biggest sectors in the region is seeing a severe shortage of workers.

In a sign of the times, the job fest was coupled with on-site vaccinations for COVID-19. The scene at the Morial Convention Center seemed crowded and socially distant at the same time. Face coverings were a common theme. 

We met Renia a few minutes after we arrived. When she graduated LSU last year, she had dreams of landing a marketing job. The pandemic forced a new reality.

“It’s been tough. I actually stayed in Baton Rouge for four years. I’m transitioning. I moved back home, because the job market was so shattered,” Renia said.

She said it sounds idealistic, but she wants a job that keeps her paid and personally satisfied.

“I guess that’s the Gen Z in us, I want to be happy at work.”

“Those of us in the older generations have a lot to offer. We are a dying breed. We use eye contact, we don’t play with our phone when we’re talking to you,” said Christine Morris.

Christine Morris is proudly old school. When COVID put millions of Americans out of work, she said she never applied for unemployment. She has more than 20 years of experience in the hotel industry and is eager to take on more work.

“Having a Navy dad, I don’t take no for an answer. I actually just interviewed with Chick-fil-A. I’ll work at Chick-fil-A. I’ll bring your food to the car,” said Morris.

More than a year after the COVID outbreak, there’s a significant reversal in employment. Instead of people losing their jobs, employers are now struggling to gain enough workers. That’s acutely true in the tourism and hospitality industry in New Orleans, where the shortage is estimated to be in the tens of thousands.

“Some people go to work, they don’t make $400 a week, and unemployment gives them $400 and up,” said Charles Manel.

Charles Manel runs a staffing agency and is busy. He’s getting calls from job seekers and providers.

“They come to me first. It’s my secret. If I give you my secret everybody will know it and then it will be hard for me to find employees,” Manel jokingly said.

With the shortage of hospitality workers, there’s a general sense that employers are willing to offer more pay, more benefits and even sign-on bonuses. The job fest reserved a space for on-site interviews. Companies are looking to hire now.

“I’m going to find something that’s going to make me happy and I’m going to be a loyal employee,” said Christine Harris.

Essential workers is one of the catch phrases that came about during the pandemic, and with good reason. For the local economy to rebound, they’re the essential piece to that puzzle.

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