WILLISTON, Vt. (WFFF) — Help wanted signs are popping up all over Vermont.

Cindy Robillard, business services manager for the state Department of Labor, says the department gets calls from employers every day.  “We know that there are openings in all industries across the state,” she said. “And so, it’s a very active labor markets when it comes to job openings.”

But for the Williston Coffee Shop, filling the openings is another matter. For the first time in seven years, shop owner Eric Kelley says he’ll be closed Memorial Day Weekend. “Part of the issue I’m facing is that I’m getting people that just are willing to just walk away from a job and not give a notice,” he said. “And that’s a struggle.”

Kelley has five people, including himself, running the shop. Two were just hired. “I don’t have a single person with me that was with me pre-pandemic. None of them wanted to go back to their jobs. They were happy getting their extended benefits and I had to move on from that,” Kelly said. 

Kelley isn’t alone when it comes to finding employees. The worker shortage is a nationwide concern in the restaurant industry as COVID-19 continues to cast a shadow. Industry experts say the reasons include safety concerns or the need to care for children who are still learning remotely.

Some employees have also found other lines of work entirely, after being laid off earlier in the pandemic, said Melissa Fleischut, president and CEO of the New York State Restaurant Association.

“These are still unprecedented times, and hospitality workers do not have the luxury nor flexibility of working remotely,” Fleischut said.

Robillard says the labor department helps connect companies with job seekers, offering free recruitment services. She pointed Kelly and other employers to the Vermont Job Links System, which matches companies that are hiring with people looking for work. “That would be the very first we would encourage,” she said.

Kelley says he’s offering $16 dollars an hour, plus tips. But he’s still struggling to hire someone. “What I’m getting is people who are applying for the job, but they still get their extended benefits,” he said. “So, they don’t necessarily want the job, but they’re forced to apply for the jobs and then they move on and burn somebody the next week.”