Work Visa Shortage Leaves Wisconsin Tourism Jobs Unfilled

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Premiere Date: 
July 7, 2017

Work Visa Shortage Leaves Wisconsin Tourism Jobs Unfilled

The shortage of foreign worker visas is leaving Wisconsin hotels and tourist attractions struggling to find seasonal employees. Trisha Pugal, CEO of Wisconsin Hotel and Lodging Association, explains that many areas do not have the residential base to fill all their open jobs. "The challenge is to fill all the positions and shifts while competing with other industries experiencing shortages."

Episode Transcript

Frederica Freyberg:

In tonight's closer look, scrambling to find summer help. A shortage of foreign worker visas leaves Wisconsin tourist attractions coming up short when it comes to finding seasonal employees. For more on this, we are joined by the CEO of the Wisconsin Hotel and Lodging Association, Trish Pugal. She joins us by phone. Trisha, thanks a lot for doing so.

Trish Pugal:

My pleasure.

Frederica Freyberg:

Well, so describe what the situation is for seasonal employers trying to find enough help this summer.

Trish Pugal:

Well, I think the challenges are just being able to fill all the positions and the shifts, competing with other industries who are also facing shortages and hiring challenges.

Frederica Freyberg:

So which sector is hardest hit?

Trish Pugal:

Within the lodging industry, the service positions seem to be primarily due to vacancies. But it really also has an impact on management because they are responsible for finding the solutions, filling the roles and many times jumping into pinch hit.

Frederica Freyberg:

So how bad is it? I mean, how would the customer see this shortage?

Trish Pugal:

Hopefully it would be seamless and they would not see anything. The whole role of management is to try to, again, solve the issues of shortages and make sure that the delivery of an excellent experience is still right on target.

Frederica Freyberg:

So what kind of economic impact does this have?

Trish Pugal:

Well, it's really pretty early to tell for this summer because, again, hopefully the different lodging property owners and managers are trying to find their solutions and making the experience great and it hopefully will not show up with a dramatic economic impact.

Frederica Freyberg:

Why is this happening?

Trish Pugal:

I think it's a combination of things, everything from the unemployment being very low for all positions. We seem to also see less students that are looking for summer employment or that are looking for limited hours or short seasons, et cetera, which has an impact. There is some areas that have a population density issue, where they just don't have the population base to be able to serve all the tourists coming in. You've got the job hopping. And you've got the fact that tourism is pretty strong right now.

Frederica Freyberg:

Now, I understand that Homeland Security will offer extra visas above the 66,000 nationwide cap that they have, but not until possibly late July. How much will that help?

Trish Pugal:

Well, unfortunately, it wouldn't do much for this season. However, it's an excellent, positive step that they are considering how that could help in the future. So it perhaps would be mostly for next year. And that is the H-2B visas, which are just one of the visas that are considered.

Frederica Freyberg:

So are some employers making use of other kinds of visas to fill their needs?

Trish Pugal:

In our industry, definitely. The J-1 visas, which are more of a cultural exchange program, where there is some educational components involved. That's strongly used in some of the areas with the populations, the cities I had mentioned before, such as the Dells, Door County, et cetera, where, again, the residential base doesn't support all the positions that are needing to be filled.

Frederica Freyberg:

Now, your organization I understand has set up a task force to deal with this problem. What will that task force look at in terms of solutions?

Trish Pugal:

Well, what we're trying to do is, for one thing, to make sure that individuals are aware that our industry is quite what you could call a ladder industry, where you can climb up the career ladder pretty quickly and the opportunities are strong, whether it's unique hours to work, whether it's having different talents and changing, moving your way up the ladder. There's so many opportunities, and so we're kind of hoping to be able to get the word out about that. We're also going to create a guide for the existing resources on both recruitment and retention and try and come up with some creative ideas. And we're going to be looking at linkage with educational institutions as well. It's a broad -- a lot of goals, and we're just getting started.

Frederica Freyberg:

Now, some might wonder if employers could attract these workers with higher pay or perks.

Trish Pugal:

Well, I think what you'd find in our industry is that wages are already rising. It's basic, the laws of supply and demand for economics. And it is something that's already happening, and will continue based on the supply and demand for economics. And it is something that is already happening and will continue based on the supply and demand. And as far as performance as well. Also, we do end up being a little creative sometimes with perks that are offered, depending on the type of property it is, whether it's some meals that are included or flexible hours. There are a lot of different options that are tapped, depending on, again, the size of the property, the type of the property, where it's located, et cetera.

Frederica Freyberg:

Okay. Well, good luck with this, even as this season unfolds this summer. Trish Pugal, thanks very much.

Trish Pugal:

Thank you.

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