Oxbow Bend, Snake River

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

2021 Staffing and Recruiting Outlook

Matt Moore

The 2021 summer hiring season is in full swing, and it’s safe to say that this is one of the most challenging and uncertain times in decades to be planning and staffing for a summer recreation, tourism, and hospitality business. There’s reason for optimism – positive vaccination news, monetary policy committed to backstopping the economy and lowering unemployment, stimulus-focused fiscal policy – and reasons for caution – new virus strains and sustained high rates of spread, slow economic recovery, stimulus-focused fiscal policy (yes, ongoing stimulus present both benefits and challenges to businesses).

So let’s take a look at some of the trends and predictions we have for how 2021 might look for seasonal employers:

Early Hiring Indicators

In spite of the fog of uncertainty that seems to blanket every corner of our lives, this January felt like a fairly normal start to the year at CoolWorks. Job vacancies are certainly lower than they were in January 2020 when unemployment was hovering around 3.5%, but employers are posting their upcoming summer opportunities at a healthy clip across all geographic regions, indicating optimism about the season ahead and plans to approach summer 2021 being fully staffed.

As we learned in our fall webinar series, many businesses who operated in the summer of 2020 found themselves overwhelmed with customers as pent-up demand for travel and recreation drove large visitation numbers. Based on early recruiting efforts and conversations that we’re having with employers, many businesses appear to be expecting a healthy summer, in spite of continued virus concerns and social distancing guidelines, and are shaping their operating plans accordingly.

Effects of Ongoing Fiscal Stimulus  

The unprecedented level of fiscal stimulus released so far (with more likely to come) has created some interesting, and sometimes conflicting, dynamics. On the one hand, programs like the PPP and EIDL have provided critical support to small businesses to be able to retain their staff and curb the spike in unemployment. Extended unemployment benefits have provided an invaluable lifeline for millions who have lost their jobs.

On the other hand, the extended eligibility time frame and monetary value of unemployment benefits has provided workers with a viable alternative to returning to a workforce where they could potentially be exposed or risk exposing vulnerable family members. In previous high-unemployment cycles, employers looking to fill vacancies traditionally experienced an abundance of applications and interest from a large pool of candidates. With the support of unemployment benefits countering the demand for jobs in certain industries (especially hospitality and restaurants), employers are finding that filling vacancies is more reminiscent of mid- to low-unemployment labor markets, and (as we also learned in our fall webinar series and job seeker survey), those candidates who are looking are giving preference to those employers who are acknowledging the risks of Covid-19 and are taking steps to address the safety of their employees and guests.

Gauging Job Seeker Interest

Despite the complicated dynamics of hiring seasonal staff in 2021, the demand for Jobs in Great Places® is strong and steadily increasing. Just as businesses experienced a surprising wave of pent-up demand for travel and recreation last summer, plenty of job seekers who have been stuck at home and are itching to get out and have a working-travel adventure in 2021. At CoolWorks, our site traffic has remained steady and is on-par with 2020 pre-Covid levels, so there’s no shortage of interest in summer 2021 opportunities. Our analytics also show that Job Seekers are spending more time exploring employers’ recruiting materials than they were before Covid. The time spent on pages has increased, and conversion events (clicks to Apply Now) are up! Two healthy and positive signs for recruiters looking to staff up for the summer ahead.

Continued Uncertainty Surrounding International Staffing

In June 2020, an executive order went into effect suspending the entry or issuance of new H-2B and J-1 Visas through December 31, 2020, and that order has currently been extended until March 31, 2021. Currently, bipartisan members of Congress are lobbying for exceptions to the ban or for its revocation, and the odds are reasonable that the suspension will be lifted sometime in 2021. However, ongoing travel restrictions related to Covid-19 will likely continue to limit the availability of international candidates, requiring employers to rely more heavily on domestic job seekers.

2021 is shaping up to be another roller coaster year, with plenty to be hopeful about, and plenty to be cautious about as well. We’ll be here along the way to cheer on employers and job seekers alike, helping keep you up to speed and offering all of our support and guidance. If there’s one thing we’ve taken away from 2020 it’s that we count ourselves lucky to be a part of this community of resilient, agile, creative, and optimistic recruiters, HR pros, business owners, and adventurous job seekers. We’re wishing you all the best in 2021!