International workers still vital for some North Shore businesses as peak of tourism season approaches
WTIP file photo

International workers still vital for some North Shore businesses as peak of tourism season approaches

It’s no secret that many businesses on the North Shore and across the country are short-staffed, in part due to the decreased numbers of international workers coming to the United States.

This has been an issue on the Cook County Chamber agenda for many years.

WTIP’s Rhonda Silence checked in with the chamber to see what the workforce picture looks like this summer. (Audio below)

When the COVID-19 pandemic arrived to Cook County two years ago, remote work paved the way for some local employers and workers to balance public health recommendations and the basic concept of getting work done on time. A remote workforce did not solve many of the worker shortages some businesses faced, and continue to face in Cook County, primarily in the restaurant and hospitality industries.

Meanwhile, it is not just restaurants or local hospitality businesses being impacted by a shortage of workers. Many of Cook County’s largest employers – from healthcare to local government – are struggling to find and retain employees as elements of the ‘great resignation’ continue to impact the North Shore.

As Cook County’s COVID positivity rate continues to decline in early April, the idea of working remotely continues to appeal to some employees and their employers. In fact, the concept of hiring remote workers might become essential to retain or hire workers in some fields, including local government.

This notion surfaced during a meeting of the Cook County Board of Commissioners Tuesday, March 22. Highway Engineer Robbie Hass explained to the commissioners that due to the lack of available housing in Cook County, and the fact job openings are going unfilled at the highway department, it could be time to consider hiring remote workers who do not live in the community. To be specific, Hass suggested some workers hired by the county might not live anywhere near the North Shore or surrounding region.

The idea spurred conversation among the commissioners and county staff about addressing a lack of workers available to fill various jobs where an office, desk and computer would be the typical setting. The commissioners did not take any specific action regarding a policy to hire workers who do not live in Cook County during the March 22 meeting.

During a conversation with WTIP following the board meeting, County Administrator James Joerke emphasized there have not been any formal internal discussions about drafting a policy that would enable an arrangement such as the one the highway engineer suggested. That being the case, Joerke said the idea could be worth exploring.