Help Wanted

I just love this time of year. As Halloween (and later, Christmas) approaches, all of the decorations people put up give me plenty of new things to look at as I walk around the city, particularly in the residential areas. I went by to check in on Dug the T-Rex, and yep, he’s attired in a Halloween costume: this year, he’s dressed as Marge Simpson. But Dug is entertaining throughout the year: other homes really shine in their favored holiday seasons. This year, I especially want to give a shout-out to the folks on Massachusetts Avenue, across from Henry Ford School.:

These folks started decorating weeks ago. I first noticed this house back on October 2: they had already placed the row of pumpkins along the roofline and the faux balcony, and had set out the straw bed full of pumpkins on the driveway. Since then they’ve added the decorations on the garage doors, all of the ghosts and pumpkins along the left edge of the property, and the cobwebs and other decorations on and around the car to the right.

Most (if not all) of their pumpkins are artificial, and all seem to have lights inside. Thus, this makes for a really great display at night. You don’t have to wait for Halloween to see this particular display in all its glory (although they may well add more between now and then): just drive by any evening and you should be able to get a preview of what trick-or-treaters will see come Halloween night. I do have to wonder just what kind of candy they’ll be handing out—if their decorations are any indication, this should be a great place for the little ones on October 31.

I first saw the above house while I was on one of my overly ambitious series of walks. Those walks were inspired by the fact that as I explored the city over the summer I kept noticing “Help Wanted” signs in various storefront windows. Finally it occurred to me that perhaps I should see just how many there actually were. So, during the first week of October I took a series of walks that I had carefully mapped out to cover just as much of the retail and business portions of Redwood City as I could. That meant walking all through downtown, of course, but also the length of El Camino Real (from Cordilleras Creek at the north end to the vicinity of Oakwood Drive at the south end), the length of Woodside Road (from Alameda de Las Pulgas to Broadway), Veteran’s Boulevard, and through pockets of retail including the areas around the intersection of Canyon Road and Oak Knoll Drive (which is home to Bonfare Market, Sancho’s, and Canyon Inn, among others), the intersection of Jefferson Avenue and Alameda de Las Pulgas (liquor store, market, doughnut shop, etc.), and the intersection of Upton Street and Roosevelt Avenue (Roosevelt Plaza, Key Market, and the rest). While I’m sure I missed a small number of places, I even walked Whipple between El Camino Real and Veterans Boulevard to catch the handful of businesses there, and of course I went over to Redwood Shores and explored the various businesses in the “Marketplace at Redwood Shores” center—so I think my list is fairly complete.

The rules: I only noted places that had a visible sign posted, either on the side of the building or (more commonly) in a window or on a door. I did include businesses that seem to have perpetual “Help Wanted” notices up, such as our numerous Starbucks locations and our two KFC’s. But any sign I saw was valid, whether it was professionally printed or handwritten. Also, my list only included signs I saw during that week: some may have been taken down since then, and new ones may have gone up. My goal was simply to capture a snapshot of what was available at one point in time.

Given the fact that I was looking for actual “help wanted” type signs, naturally my list does not include the countless professional-level opportunities that undoubtedly abound within Redwood City’s borders. Most of the positions I noted were relatively low-wage (that is, close to minimum wage) ones. For the record, Redwood City does not currently have a local minimum wage ordinance, and so state law applies. Thus, for 2017 the minimum wage is $10 per hour for employers with 25 or fewer employees, and $10.50 per hour for those with more than 25 employees. Those numbers will ratchet up by $0.50 beginning the first of next year, and will rise further in subsequent years until they get to about $15 per hour in the 2022-2023 timeframe. Although Redwood City is thinking about raising the minimum wage to $15 sooner than 2022, city staff is still in the outreach and information gathering stage. They received input from the City Council at the Council’s September 25 meeting and are now in the process of contacting local businesses and using various forms of social media to get a wide range of opinions on the subject. Staff hopes to get back to the City Council with a summary of the feedback received and a recommended framework for the drafting of a local minimum wage ordinance sometime early in the new year.

Having said all that, I’m pleased to see that a number of local businesses are offering more than the minimum wage, with a few, presumably for the more skilled positions, offering more than $15 per hour. But of the ones that indicated an actual wage on their sign, most seemed to be in the $12-$13 per hour range. Most, of course, didn’t advertise a wage and thus are likely either offering minimum wage or something close to it, at least for the less-highly skilled positions.

Employers that advertise for workers via a sign in the window (or door, or on the side of the building) are often hiring for entry-level positions, positions that in years gone by were often filled by high schoolers. When I was a teenager many of us worked jobs like this after school,  on weekends, or over summer break. Flipping burgers, scooping ice cream, or pumping gas were all jobs that a responsible teenager could be trained to do. The jobs often weren’t full-time, and they were (as they still are) relatively low-paying. I don’t believe that they were really intended to be something that one did to try to make a living. Instead, these lower-paying, hourly positions seem great for someone who needs a little extra income, or someone who is early on in their working career and is exploring career options and/or trying to build up a resume. Some of these positions can lead to a real future, however. For instance, if you enjoy working in the food service industry a job at McDonald’s could be a great way to get a start: companies like McDonald’s often have a promotional track that will eventually move willing employees into higher-paying, higher-responsibility jobs that might actually pay enough that one could live on.

To get back to my walks though, altogether during the first week of October I recorded 121 “help wanted” signs within Redwood City’s borders (which presumably translates to more than 121 actual jobs). Of those, almost exactly half—59—were in the food service industry. Many involved working for big chains—McDonald’s, KFC, Starbucks, Subway, and the like—but some of the jobs meant working for local independent businesses, such as Breaker’s Cafe (in Woodside Plaza), Ohana Express (on Woodside Road), Gourmet Haus Staudt (on Broadway; they were looking for a Sous Chef, and paying $13-$15 an hour), or one of my favorites: Kristi Marie’s, at the corner of Broadway and Arguello.

Of the wages I saw posted for these food-service positions, none were less than $12 per hour. The Habit listed wages ranging from $13.50-$17.00 per hour, depending upon experience and, presumably, upon the type of work being done. I was interested to note a bit of competition between the big fast-food chains: while McDonald’s listed a starting wage of $12 per hour, the KFC on El Camino was paying $12.50 per hour, and Wendy’s was apparently paying $13 per hour. Looking for more than just a paycheck? The sign on The Old Spaghetti Factory indicated that they offered “Benefits in compliance with ACA.”

After food service he next largest job category was retail, with 37 help-wanted signs. Most of the large shops in Woodside Plaza seemed to be hiring, as were most of the shops in the Target center on El Camino Real, many of the shops in Kohl’s Plaza, and a good many of the ones in Sequoia Station. Someone interested in working retail could sell clothing, mattresses, auto parts, vitamins…just about anything, really. Pet Food Express in Sequoia Station noted that they offered “full benefits to full timers.” And I dutifully noted that Secrets Adult Boutique (on El Camino Real near Broadway) had both full- and part-time positions available, so if you wanted to sell whatever it is that they sell, well, that was an option.

I didn’t lump grocery stores in with retail, figuring that they were a bit of a specialty. Whole Foods, both Safeway stores (Sequoia Station and Woodside Road), and Nob Hill Trading Co. (in the Marketplace at Redwood Shores) were all hiring. The sign on the Safeway in Sequoia Station noted that they provided some benefits, although medical wasn’t among them, unfortunately.

If one has skills or interest in working with automobiles, I saw signs on six different automotive service businesses, ranging from Beltran Tire Service to Big O Tires to Oil Changers to Collision Kings. Want to make deliveries? A1 Party Rentals was looking for drivers. And even the US Postal Service was looking for mail carriers. I don’t know what they pay, but for someone who can pass the Civil Service Exam a job with the Postal Service just might be the beginning of a great career.

I saw jobs pumping gas (Flyer’s, on El Camino at Brewster), cleaning hotel rooms (Comfort Inn), installing landscape irrigation (Fox Landscape Irrigation), dry cleaning (Press Rite Cleaners, Atherton Cleaners), caring for the memory-impaired among us (Kensington Place), teaching math to kids (Mathnasium), and arranging loans for those without a traditional credit history (Opportun; they were looking for bilingual customer service representatives). All in all, there were a pretty wide variety of job opportunities.

They may not be full-time, and they may not pay enough to live on, but clearly there are a lot of entry-level jobs out there doing almost any kind of work. Given the sheer number of them, there don’t seem to be enough people who are willing or able to do those jobs for the proffered wage. That makes me wonder what all of our high schoolers are up to these days: are they too busy to take on jobs like these? Perhaps they’re all on their computers, starting tech companies…

6 thoughts on “Help Wanted

  1. Don’t miss the decorated house on the corner of Turnsworth Avenue and Whipple Avenue. Come in the evening when the lights, animation and lasers are working. It’s amazing and everyone in the neighborhood loves it. Brady and Caitlin did a wonderful job!

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