The search for qualified employees by local businesses to fill summer vacancies is real, which is why the Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce recently hosted a job fair for the first time in a number of years.
“It was requested,” said Abbie Kaiser, chamber membership representative and event coordinator.
Chamber staff were on hand greeting potential employees at the door of the Rehoboth Mall, where the April 16 event was held. They said there were 70 businesses looking for employees and they could have had close to 100 if COVID-related spacing wasn’t required. Businesses of all types were on hand – restaurants, medical, manual labor, law enforcement, hotels and cleaning services.
Many of the businesses were there looking to fill the void left by the absence of J1 Visa students, who typically hold multiple jobs during a few months of summer work.
Chris Darr, Funland personnel manager and a fourth-generation member of the amusement park’s founding family, said Funland hires 150 employees every summer, with 30 of them usually being J1 Visa students. This year, he said, there are 18 students coming.
A lot of the businesses are looking to hire five, 10, 15 or more people, said Darr, looking around the room.
“It’s going to be a busy summer, and we’re all looking for staff,” he said.
Darr said the Funland family takes pride in getting out on the floor and working with the summer employees. However, he said, even if the family is down there, only so much can be done, and it affects how much of the park is open.
Jason Gipko, a manager at Thrasher’s, said the popular french fry stand is looking to hire enough employees so they can open all three ocean-block locations this summer. Last summer, he said, they weren’t able to open the stand on the south side of Rehoboth Avenue because there weren’t enough employees.
Even if Thrasher’s is able to hire enough employees to open the third location, staff levels will still be stretched. That wasn’t lost on Gipko.
When asked how many hours he thinks he’ll be working this summer, he answered, “Probably, quite a bit.”
Multiple businesses said applications were coming in, but not many.
Phil Castelli, Coastline Pool Service president, said he’s been able to find some employees for the summer, but the number of applications has been limited. He said they often hire college-age kids or schoolteachers who have the summer off.
“It’s been a struggle. Typically, we’d put out an ad and get 40 applications. Now, we’ll get three,” said Castelli.
Looking to stand out from others, some businesses, like ACME and Greene Turtle, were offering bonuses.
Dawn Wright, an assistant store manager for an ACME in Pasadena, Md., was hiring for all four local ACME locations. She was offering an employment bonus, with more bonuses when a new employee met certain employment timelines.
“We need help right now. We’re hurting bad,” said Wright. “Normally, we’re swamped this time of year with applications. Now, we’re not even getting any applications.”
Many of the businesses at the job fair have been around for years. There were some new ones on hand, though.
Rose Veltri was there representing Topsail Steamer, a North Carolina-based outfit that makes steam pots for seafood. The company will be opening a location in Bethany Beach soon. She’s also the manager for a location in New Jersey.
“I’m here looking for people who want to be a part of the Steam Team,” she said.
The number of jobs available may have outnumbered the number of potential employees, but people looking for summer and full-time employment did show up.
Jim Hughes and Amy Cordy live close to Long Neck. They said they had heard about the job fair through a Facebook post by The Peninsula, but they didn’t even realize all these other businesses were going to be there.
“It’s a bit overwhelming,” said Cordy, who said she was there looking for something new. “But it’s great, because we’ll be able to pick and choose where we go.”
Joshua Bock had moved from Wilmington the day of the job fair. He said he heard about it from his aunt. He said he has a lot of experience in construction and was looking for a supervisor role of some sort.
“It’s going OK,” he said about the search.
In a follow-up email April 19, Kaiser said overall, 140 potential employees attended the event. The event went well and there were more people than they expected, she said.
Kaiser said the chamber will hold a second job fair in the same location from 3 to 6 p.m., Thursday, April 29. She said the chamber is changing things up a bit to have a more concentrated attendance and to allow students more time to come after school.
For more information on the chamber’s upcoming job fair at the Rehoboth Mall, 18908 Rehoboth Mall Blvd., and to see a list of participating businesses, go to beach-fun.com.