Finding more than a thousand workers for the busy season is never an easy task. But this summer, filling the ranks was harder than ever for Morey's Piers in Wildwood, as businesses throughout the Garden State grapple with a hiring crisis.

In 2021, Morey's Piers managed to reach just 70% of 2019's employment numbers, despite a search for workers that was more extensive and out-of-the-box than the company ever could have imagined.

"We're working with a talent agency in New York that recruited performers who were not able to perform in their summer stock theater and places like that," said Denise Beckson, vice president of human resources. "So you might get your lemonade and hear a shake-up song while you get it."

But even that pool of workers will slip from about 50 to 30 or so once the young adults head to college in late August. At the same time, help typically provided by foreign students through a federal summer work travel program is extremely limited due to coronavirus-related delays and restrictions.

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In another move to help make up for the worker shortfall, Beckson said, Morey's Piers is regularly bussing in dozens of teens from nearby Cumberland County, where there are not as many seasonal jobs available.

"In 2019, I might not have hired someone who can work one day a week. This year, I'm hiring someone who can work one day a week," Beckson said.

The ongoing battle, pandemic or no pandemic, is that seasonal employment is the highest in areas where year-round population numbers are the lowest. This summer, businesses claim they're battling against generous unemployment insurance benefits, would-be workers struggling to secure adequate childcare, and senior citizens who are nervous to return to the workforce due to the COVID-19 threat.

"A lot of creative thinking has gone into where we can find people," said Vicki Clark, past president of the New Jersey Tourism Industry Association.

Earlier this summer, Gov. Phil Murphy signed a law that extends the number of hours a teenager can work in one week, in order to help businesses fill an employment gap. Businesses along the shore, such as Mueller's Bakery in Bay Head, have been forced to shut their doors one day per week because staffing is so hard to find.

Ralph Wolff, owner of Jersey Coast Appliance in Toms River, said a customer in need of a dishwasher repair may have to wait weeks before a technician can come out to their home, because they don't have enough workers to meet demand.

Wolff said it's hard enough to attract applicants in 2021, but they're also struggling to retain the people they hire — folks may accept a job and then never show up on day one, and that's costly.

Wolff said the company is trying to get creative with its outreach for workers, but they need people with certain skills and relatively clean backgrounds.

"We are not allowed, I'm talking industry-wide, to hire folks with a felony record that's less than seven years old," Wolff said.

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