Missoula, MT (KGVO-AM News) - Townsquare Media’s Ashley Warren recently reported that 5 local restaurants have closed or will be closing soon. The report stated that ‘89 percent of restaurant operators say labor costs are a significant challenge’.

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KGVO News reached out to the State of Montana Department of Labor and Industry to get the official word on Montana’s employment picture.

Director Sarah Swanson began by stating that there is a huge gap between job vacancies and the number of Montanans receiving unemployment insurance.

Lots of Job Opportunities but Not Enough Workers in Montana

“We know that the workforce shortage has become particularly acute over the last few years in Montana, as the unemployment rate has hit a record low,” began Director Swanson. “We've had record low unemployment, more than we've seen ever before. We know low unemployment can benefit workers making it easier to find work, but that's not the answer employers want to hear. Right now we have 41,000 job vacancies in Montana reported through our job service offices. But if you compare that to the 13,000 Montanans that are currently utilizing unemployment insurance, we see the gap.”

The Gap Between Jobs and Available Workers has been Growing for a Decade

Swanson said the gap between jobs and available workers is growing.

“It's been growing for about a decade,” she said. “We know that these businesses closing, whether they’re restaurants or other industries, are reporting that it's due in large part due to lack of workers. We know that’s not unique to Montana. It's happening all over the state. There are just not enough qualified workers right now to support the job growth that we're experiencing. We have more Montanans physically at work right now than any time in the history of our state. As of June 2023, there are nearly three job openings for every one unemployed person.”

Swanson said to help local restaurateurs the Department of Labor and Industry offers ‘engagement teams’ that can train food service workers to fill many of the open positions.

“We have a number of programs in Montana right now preparing individuals for both the front of the house and the back of the house in the restaurant industry,” she said. “For example, I know our Montana Restaurant Association runs a high school culinary program called ProStart, trying to help individuals prepare with those skills. I see no reason that if some enterprising restaurateurs wanted to contact the engagement team, we could work with them to help develop a ‘rapid retraining program’ to train adults in their communities.”

The Employment Picture is all about Demographics

Swanson said the real issue in Montana’s employment picture is purely demographic; too many retirees and not enough young people in the workforce.

“It's actually driven by the number of retirees at a rate that we've never seen before, less than it is about the youth,” she said. “You are correct. The birth rate is lower in Montana right now than we've seen before. But the young people that are engaged in our workforce in that 16, 17 and 18-year-old range are working at a higher percentage than we've seen in a long time. However, that coupled with the steady increase of retirements, the likes of which we're going to continue to see for a while, that's what's really putting the constriction on our labor markets.”

Read the most recent report from the Montana Department of Labor and Industry here.

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