New app helps Austin businesses fill the labor shortage gap

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A new app is helping fill the gap for the Austin metro area’s leisure and hospitality industry, which is still short thousands of workers compared to pre-pandemic levels.

According to the Austin Chamber of Commerce’s most recent economic report released this week, the industry added 1,400 jobs in November, but it’s still short 7,000 compared to February 2020.

Gigpro launched in Austin in October to help meet the industry’s needs, says founder Ben Ellsworth.

“If you’re down a couple of servers, you know, how do we keep them at the table, giving great customer service? Maybe we bring someone in for the night and we get them to polish silverware and glassware,” he explained.

Gigpro acts as an open marketplace, where businesses can post immediate job openings with the required skill set for jobs.

“Anyone in that market, their phone will go off with the push notification. They can see the date, the location, the money, short job description, and then if they think it’s the right one for them, they can hit ‘apply,'” said Ellsworth, a former chef of 25 years who said the idea came out of necessity for him one day, when he was short a dishwasher.

“And then my phone went off with a notification from Airbnb that said, ‘Someone’s booked your room for the night.’ And I said to myself, ‘I wish this person had booked to wash these dishes.’ And that was kind of the lightbulb moment,” he said.

It’s something Vijay Patel says he sees it as an option to find a fill-in for a sick crew member. Right now, he’s finally back to nearly 90% staffing.

“Benefits packages ending with the state or getting the relief that they need to get the kids back in school. I think that really opened up the, the the candidacy pool for us,” said Patel, CEO of Humble Origins Hospitality management.

But he worries the highly contagious Omicron variant may hit his staff.

“That could potentially lead to a further gap in employment coverage,” he said.

The company says they currently have 27 hospitality-related businesses in Austin that are using Gigpro to fill positions, and more than 900 workers registered to take shifts.

The app fills immediate needs, not long-term staffing issues, but Ellsworth hopes it may lead to long-term help for some.

“Someone does come in for the night, and they like your working environment and your staff and you’d like the way they work, you can have a conversation,” Ellsworth said.

Patel would also still need to vet his candidates, but sees it as an option to fill a potential gap.

“Absolutely, we would open up to that,” he said.

The app is available in 14 other cities, according to its website, and Ellsworth says they are on track to fill about a million shift hours next year, if they continue growing at their current rate.

“We’ve allowed catering companies that might not be able to pick up you know, three extra wedding parties, to pick up that extra revenue because… with the click of a button, I can get seven more servers. I can get three bartenders, you know. So, I mean, it’s a powerful tool,” he said.

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