The seasonal labor force is a vital component of the Cape May County tourism industry. The county is a popular tourist destination known for its picturesque beaches, historic architecture and vibrant cultural scene from Cape May to Ocean City. Cape May County’s iconic $7.4 billion tourism industry plays a significant role in the local economy, driving revenue for businesses such as hotels, restaurants, shops and entertainment venues.
During the peak tourism season from late spring to early fall, the county experiences a significant influx of visitors seeking relaxation and recreation. The population of Cape May County swells as visitors flock to the area for vacations, weekend getaways and special events.
This surge in tourism demands additional staff to handle roles in the hospitality, accommodations, dining, entertainment and retail industries during this period. Businesses in Cape May County must hire seasonal and temporary workers, which often include high school and college students on summer break, students in the J-1 Visa Summer Work Travel Program, retirees and individuals simply seeking seasonal employment opportunities.
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One of the main demographics working in the summer season is high school students. This year, the New Jersey Department of Labor introduced a new online service in June to streamline teen working papers. The new process has younger workers seeking employment filling out their working papers online rather than contacting their school’s guidance department, simplifying the procedure for students, guardians and employers.
The seasonal labor force brings diversity to the Cape May County community as people from different backgrounds and regions come together to contribute to the tourism industry, thus creating a unique blend of experiences for both locals and visitors. This season alone saw more than 1,900 J-1 Visa Summer Work Travel students from all over the globe.
Thousands of students from abroad come to the Jersey Shore each summer to staff seasonal businesses. But finding housing for them is increasingly difficult.
These seasonal workers, for example, have been able to provide businesses with the flexibility to scale up their workforce quickly to accommodate the surge in demand. This enables businesses to efficiently meet the needs of their customers without overburdening their year-round staff.
The hospitality industry is a major employer in Cape May County’s tourism sector. Hotels, motels, bed-and-breakfasts, restaurants, bars and other related businesses require extra staff to cater to the needs of tourists. The seasonal labor force takes on various roles, including front desk clerks, housekeepers, servers, bartenders, cooks, lifeguards, retail associates, event staff, entertainment and activity staff, transportation workers, beach and maintenance crews, tour guides and many more. These workers are a vital part of making these businesses successful.
While seasonal employment provides opportunities for both those in the local community and those from other areas, it can also present challenges. Housing availability and affordability are issues in Cape May County year-round and worsen as the demand for accommodation increases. This year saw labor shortages due to this reason.
Overall, the seasonal labor force plays a crucial role in sustaining Cape May County’s tourism industry, ensuring that the county and its shore towns can provide excellent services and experiences for visitors while contributing to the local economy. It’s a symbiotic relationship that helps the tourism of Cape May County thrive year after year.
Barbara Jones, of Cape May Court House, is president of the Cape May County Chamber of Commerce.