Staff at Fifth Street Bagelry, 559 S. Fifth Ave., serve food at the local eatery. Owner Marsha Lamprecht said finding workers is becoming an increasing challenge.

POCATELLO — Fifth Street Bagelry owner Marsha Lamprecht seldom gets applications when she posts a job nowadays, and she’s concerned that her staff is becoming overwhelmed by an increase in business.

Managers with Pocatello-Chubbuck School District 25’s bus garage have been out routinely covering school bus routes lately due to a shortage of bus drivers, and the district’s paraprofessionals are having to step in as substitute teachers.

Charley Potter, whose transportation company once boasted a staff of 14 drivers, now has no employees remaining and does all of his own driving.

Such stories are becoming increasingly common within the Southeast Idaho business community — and nationally — as an intense labor shortage continues to hamstring many employers, especially those offering entry-level jobs.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there’s been a recent mass exodus of Americans from the labor market, with quits jumping to 4.3 million in August. That quit rate was the highest ever recorded, with records dating back to 2000. The restaurant and motel industries have been especially hard hit, with the number of people quitting jobs now almost double what it was a year ago, according to the report. Total hiring has also fallen sharply.

The Associated Press reported the increase in quits suggests the fear of the delta COVID-19 variant is largely responsible for the worker shortfall.

Lamprecht employs about 30 workers at her popular eatery, located at 559 S. Fifth Ave. Throughout the past eight months, she said few people have applied for open positions. Her customer base, however, has continued to grow.

“If we can’t hire a few employees here within the next few weeks, we are going to be in trouble. ... I know some people have taken the step to close for a day or something. I may have to,” Lamprecht said.

Shortly after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lamprecht began offering starting pay slightly above the minimum wage. She now pays starting workers well above the minimum wage.

She’s had to get more creative in her efforts to recruit new staff. At her most recent employee meeting, she tasked her workers with reaching out to friends and informing them about the pay and opportunities at her eatery.

“I’ve got a fabulous business going,” Lamprecht said. “(Business) is almost out of control, but it’s not a pleasure at all because I’m putting too much on my people and they’re great. They are the best.”

Brenda Miner, human resources director for District 25, said the school district recently revamped its classified employee pay schedule, granting pay raises prior to the start of the fall semester to attract more workers. Bus drivers had their hourly pay bumped by more than $3 to $16.50.

The district also participated in a job fair with the Idaho Department of Labor.

Nonetheless, Miner said the district has been struggling to find drivers for its bus routes. The district’s transportation analyst and the coordinator of the bus garage, who normally work in an office setting, have been routinely driving bus routes lately. Furthermore, the district has had to cut back on field trips due to the lack of drivers.

Miner said challenges with finding drivers are nothing new, but they’ve intensified amid the pandemic.

“Everyone who can drive a bus is driving a bus so we can keep our routes the same, but we don’t know if that always will be the case,” Miner said.

Groundskeepers and substitute teachers are also in high demand at the school district. Miner said teachers have been substituting for colleagues during their prep periods, and paraprofessionals are also covering classrooms.

Potter, formerly a local Yellow Cab owner, now operates a transportation dispatching company based out of his Pocatello home, called Izaic. He partnered with another company to create Charles MicFog Enterprises, which staffs the drivers and provides vehicles and insurance. Izaic accepts the payments and dispatches MicFog drivers, who are also free to work for other transportation network companies such as Uber, Lyft and Grub Hub.

The business model is mostly hypothetical at the moment, however. When COVID-19 clobbered his business, Potter said he helped his 14 drivers obtain federal Paycheck Protection Program loans to start their own home-based businesses. Now that he’s seeking to reinvent his business, he’s been unable to find workers.

Potter suspects the workforce has shrunk partly because federal stimulus payments and heightened unemployment benefits have given workers more time to get their own home-based businesses off the ground.

“With the number of opportunities the internet has opened, we’re seeing more people getting self-employed,” Potter said.

Art Beery, general manager of Cole Chevrolet, Nissan, Kia, has had trouble finding a full-time receptionist. He’s resorted to hiring several part-time student workers who have shared the job. Beery believes job hunters can be more selective due to the low local unemployment rate. He doesn’t anticipate the current labor shortage will last forever, however.

“I think there’s probably been a lot of money coming from the government. It’s been holding people over,” Beery said. “Once that starts to dry up there will be a change in all of that.”

Bart Nawotniak, owner of College Market, 604 S. Eighth Ave., said he’s had about four workers who have accepted jobs recently but never showed up for training. He speculates they took jobs elsewhere, though he’s managed to fill his time slots to date.

Nawotniak said his far greater headache than labor has been keeping supplies in stock lately, due to product shortages and shipment delays.

Von Phranasith, owner of Thai Zap, 465 Yellowstone Ave., has had to run to local grocery stores recently when his supplier couldn’t deliver beef, chicken or other staples. Prices of supplies have also gone up, he said.

“All of the prices went up and I haven’t changed my price. The price is still the same. It’s kind of tough,” Phranasith said.

He’s avoided labor challenges because his staff is mostly family members, but he acknowledges, “Without family I would be in trouble.”

Heidi Hunsaker, general manager of Jeri’s Jumbo’s Cafe, 3122 Pole Line Road, said staffing hasn’t been an issue, as most of her staff have worked at the restaurant for several years. Obtaining supplies has been a recent challenge, however.

“Our problem is a product shortage. We can’t get products and they claim we can’t get products because there’s a labor shortage,” Hunsaker said. “Styrofoam boxes, chicken strips, onion rings, paper products, when we can get them in we stock up on it.”