hotel room interior

(The Center Square) – Nebraska tourism is booming again as the COVID-19 pandemic slows down, but finding enough workers to meet the demand is challenging, industry leaders say.

Richard Simmons, general manager of the Hampton Inn in North Platte, said he has been hiring more teenagers than ever to help manage the summer rush of travelers.

“I’m employing more 14 and 15-year-olds than ever before,” Simmons told The Center Square.

The market is so tight that even the teenagers are paid more than minimum wage, he said.

"Minimum wage in Nebraska is $9 [an hour] but we’re hiring at $12 an hour,” Simmons said. “That kind of money is really appealing to the youth. They’re saving up for college. That’s where we’ve been able to pull from in our labor force. Getting older people to work is a little more challenging.”

The youngest workers mainly perform housekeeping duties, Simmons said, and some of those same younger workers are using their earnings to help their parents pay the bills.

“I have had 16-year-olds at my front desk,” he said.

Workers are required to obtain a work permit from the state of Nebraska, Simmons explained.

He said that he also has made an effort to hire enough young people to allow for shorter workdays so that the teens can still enjoy the summer. One concern Simmons said he has is having enough people when school starts in August, and the summer tourism season is still in high gear.

“We need a lot more people during June, July and August,” Simmons said. “I’ve got people reporting to school Aug. 11. We will be short-staffed.”

In May, when school was still in session and Simmons couldn’t hire students, he had to turn away customers because he did not have enough housekeeping staff, he said.

“We could have booked more rooms if I had enough workers to clean them,” Simmons said. “I’ve talked to other managers in North Platte who are still experiencing that. They don’t have the workforce to get their rooms clean.”

Since the start of the pandemic, Nebraska’s hotel industry has lost about 20% of its workforce despite jobs being available across the region, WOWT 6 in Omaha reported.