AUSTIN (KXAN) – Global events in the first couple of years of the 2020s caused many Americans and Central Texans to leave their jobs by force or voluntarily. 

For example, some hospitality workers had to resign when COVID-19 restrictions came down, while others left their positions due to low wages or in search of something with more personal meaning. 

Some dubbed this period the “Great Resignation,” and locally, it reached a pinnacle in the summer of 2022 when there were north of 100,000 available jobs in the Austin region – the highest number on record, according to the Austin Chamber of Commerce. 

But since then, some industries which were unable to fill positions have recovered, and the “Great Resignation” as we knew it, has subsided. 

“We’re not seeing the same level of job turnover that we saw previously during the Great Resignation,” said Bryce Bencivengo, Director of Public Relations for the Austin Chamber of Commerce. 

“However, we are still seeing a great number of jobs available locally here in the Austin region,” he continued. “There is still a demand for workforce, especially in specific sectors. But we are not seeing the same level of turnover that we saw in previous years,” he added. Currently, Bencivengo said there are still around 80,000 job openings. 

Texas Restaurant Recovery

One of the industries hit the hardest by the pandemic was the restaurant industry. 

The industry is the state’s second-largest private-sector employer, providing jobs to around 11% of Texas’ total employees, according to the Texas Restaurant Association.

 Public Affairs Officer for TRA, Kelsey Erickson, said that labor shortages were the number one challenge for the industry, even before the pandemic. 

“With the COVID pandemic, we lost about half of our employment overnight – hundreds of thousands of employees. A pretty dramatic loss to say the least,” Erickson said.

But Erickson said the Texas restaurant industry has actually been able to bounce back from that loss quicker than most states and the country overall. She said that it took about a year after COVID-19 restrictions took place for the industry to reach pre-pandemic levels, but as of early 2023, the industry has surpassed pre-pandemic levels. 

“Texas is absolutely sort of winning that race – so to speak – in leading the nation in terms of jobs and job growth,” Erickson said. 

“Our economy is strong as a whole. But also, the Texas Restaurant Association’s advocacy during the pandemic was a huge help,” she continued. 

“We got our restaurants open more quickly. We developed – really – the standards that the rest of the nation followed in terms of: what are safe COVID reopening protocols;  how to do this while keeping people safe; and we had a really great couple of legislative sessions,” Erickson said referring to the passage of an Alcohol-To-Go bill and the Federal Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act.

Erickson said that while the pandemic created some obvious challenges for the industry, “the Great Resignation and those sort of societal changes also [created] opportunities for us,” she said.  

“I think people really started to rethink, ‘How much money do I need to really have the lifestyle that I want?” she said. ‘We have a lot of younger employees who don’t necessarily want a nine to five, Monday through Friday job,” Erickson continued. “And so we offer a lot of flexibility [and] a lot of opportunity for creativity and for entrepreneurship.” 

Austin Lifeguards 

Austin’s Park and Recreation Department has struggled to recruit and maintain enough lifeguards since the COVID-19 restrictions came down in 2020. 

“We hit a record number of lifeguards in 2019,” Aaron Levine, an Aquatics Program Manager for the Parks Department, said. “COVID hit and locked us all down. And we never really came back from that,” he said. 

Due to the shortage, the department had to keep some pools closed and couldn’t offer all their aquatic services.

“We had to stop training completely for [2020] for a solid year. And so we just weren’t able to continue the momentum that we had built up over the last few years to get us to where we were in 2019,” Levine said. 

But after an extensive coordinated effort by Austin officials, the department celebrated hiring enough lifeguards and reaching pre-pandemic levels. The Parks Department said all operational pools are now open.

“It is super exciting,” Levine said. “It’s 105 degrees out there [Wednesday]… so it’s really important that we’re providing these lifeguarded spaces to come and recreate and enjoy the water.” 

Still recovering 

Bryce Bencivengo with the Austin Chamber of Commerce said a sector where the demand has not diminished is health care. In Austin, he says there are nearly 5,000 postings for registered nurses in the Austin region. 

“That skill is in extremely high demand and has been for quite some time,” Bencivengo said. “ That is our number one title that has a job opening in Austin right now.” 

Bencivengo said people can view the Austin Chamber of Commerce’s monthly job report here.