Businesses finding it hard to attract qualified workers as pandemic loosens grip

As more and more businesses are reopening from the pandemic, some are having a hard time finding suitable candidates to fill job openings.

That is especially true among the wineries and restaurants in Sonoma County.

Despite a warm spring day, Kivelstadt Cellars & Wine Garden in Sonoma was closed Monday. The owner said it was not by choice.

"We were planning to be open seven days a week by this time of year," said Jordan Kivelstadt.

Instead, the winery and restaurant are open just four days a week.

"We can't find enough staff. Especially qualified staff," he said.

Kivelstadt said he's hired 12 people in the past six weeks. But he still needs a dozen more. 

"Never in history, at least for me personally, that I've had this much trouble hiring people. Right now, I don't even know where the experienced people are. We can't even seem to find them," he said.

Nor can others in Sonoma County's huge hospitality industry.

Fairmont Hotels, which owns the Sonoma Mission Inn, is also struggling to fill positions.

Pre-COVID, various open positions would attract more than 25 applicants. Now it is just two.

California employment tracking numbers show that since the lockdown last year, the state has lost almost 600,00 leisure and hospitality jobs. About 40,000 of those jobs returned in March.

"A lot of people moved out of this area to places where it costs a lot less during the shutdown. Some people moved out of the hospitality industry and found jobs in industries that had more consistent work," said Mark Bodenhamer, CEO of the Sonoma Valley Chamber of Commerce

Some don't feel safe coming back or prefer to remain unemployed.

But one place that is having no problems finding candidates is Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo and its sister attraction Hurricane Harbor in Concord.

Six Flags has begun looking to fill some 2,300 jobs for the summer by the first week of May.

"We're actually seeing a lot more adults than we are used to seeing. We used to hire more exclusively folks between 15-19. We're actually seeing a lot more adults," said Human Resources Director Jasmine Taylor.

But back in neighboring Sonoma County, restaurants are so desperate they are considering sharing employees.