One person after another stepped out of their car in the Panera Bread parking lot in Berlin, walked up, and pulled on the glass doors only to see they would not budge.
A smiling young man holding a large paper bag with handles while wearing a Panera apron is centered on a poster on the door that says "Join Our Team!"
The instructions on the poster say, "speak with a manager inside to learn more." But no one is getting into this dining room today, or any time soon, as the smaller sign to the left says:
Dining Room Closed Please Use Our Drive Thru!!!
It is hard to discern what emotional tone the three exclamation points at the end of the sentence mean to express. Panera's automated phone introduction proudly stated that the dining room was open, followed by about seven options on the menu, one of which somehow connected Compass Vermont to an employee inside.
The information from the staff person was brief and polite: "We don't have enough employees and have no idea when the dining room will reopen." Unfortunately, there wasn't anything else to say.
A quick survey of the businesses immediately surrounding Panera reported what Vermonters already know: there are many jobs available but no one to fill them.
The nearby McDonalds has four openings from crew member to shift manager. Autozone is looking for retails sales associates and managers. The Wayside Restaurant needs someone in the kitchen and the dining room. Pizza Hut has five openings.
Burger King, Midstate Hyundai, and Tractor Supply are all hiring, and the same theme continues across Central Vermont and the Green Mountain State. Last week, the seminal Soup-N-Greens restaurant closed after 37 years. They didn't expressly state why, but a shortage of help was undoubtedly a contributing factor.
According to a report in VPR, Vermont's labor force was at its highest in 2009, with 360,000 employees contributing to the economy. However, today it has reduced to 315,000.
What is known is that Vermonters are getting older, and the state's aging profile is ahead of most other states in the country. But 28,000 people left the Vermont workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Labor experts look to Vermont's housing shortage, the lack of access to daycare and transportation as all impacting the reluctance of more Vermonters to return to the workplace. Two other factors that have been cited nationwide include a continued concern about exposure to the COVID-19 virus and pay scales that are no longer acceptable for the hours and difficulty of the work offered.
With that in mind, it's a fairly safe bet that more business doors will be locked, especially if a drive-thru option is available.