‘Help Wanted’ Indeed

‘Help Wanted’ Indeed

Local businesses grapple with unusually low unemployment rate.

“Just one scoop of that. Always one scoop,” said Sun Kim, manager of the Dairy Queen at the Hunters Woods Shopping Center in Reston.

It was a hot Friday afternoon and a few customers had just ordered one of the fast-food restaurant’s more signature items: the Blizzard, which is soft-serve ice cream mixed impossibly thick with cookies or candy pieces.

Kim was in the middle of training a new employee for the summer, passing along all the company’s recipes for frozen treats. It wouldn’t be the last. Kim said he’s still looking for two more people to hire.

WITH ONE OF THE LOWEST unemployment rates in the country, local shops, restaurants and other businesses have had a much smaller pool of potential employees to choose from, making it harder to fill vacancies. As of April, the unemployment rate in the region has dipped to 2.9 percent, much lower than the 4.6 percent rate for the country.

It’s something that hasn’t gone unnoticed by managers throughout Reston.

Employment applications at Michaels Arts and Crafts Store at Plaza America have been down this summer, according to Larry Phillips, manager.

Usually the store receives between 40 and 50 applications after schools are let out in June, said Phillips. “This year, we’ve seen about a dozen.”

Phillips admits that he’s too busy to closely track local statistics on unemployment, but he has still noticed the effect the past several months.

“If I had to give it a percentage, I’d say it’s probably 40 percent harder to get folks than it was a year ago this time,” said Phillips.

Kim, too, has had difficulty filling some positions. “It’s hard to find a good person during the daytime [shift],” said Kim. But he hasn’t noticed much difference compared to previous years.

NONETHELESS, finding quality employees takes patience, said Phillips. “We’d rather wait for the right candidate than just hire someone who’s not going to be a great deal of help to us,” said Phillips. “We’ve learned to maximize what we have in the store in able to hold off until there is a bigger hiring pool out there.”

But that hasn’t excluded expanding the hiring net. Phillips added that he has found employees from other counties. “We have people as far out as Waldorf, Md.”

The Reston Association, which has had to hire a lot of people for seasonal positions, including lifeguards and camp counselors, hasn’t had any noticeable difficulty, according to Linda Lopez, director of human resources. She said finding quality camp counselors sometimes takes longer, but no more so than in the past.

“We’re lucky. We have word of mouth in the community,” said Lopez.