Across the U.S., businesses of all sizes in numerous industries are reporting increasing difficulty finding qualified workers to fill their open jobs. Some have blamed unemployment policies put into place during the pandemic for the talent shortage, but the reality is the lack of workers isn’t a new problem. Even pre-pandemic, there were more open jobs than unemployed individuals according to a new report by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. So, what’s the truth behind the post-pandemic talent shortage? And how can employers and the government address the nation’s growing workforce crisis?
We’re reviewing the findings of The America Works Report by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, industry perspectives on the workforce challenges facing the U.S., and policy recommendations for addressing the post-pandemic talent shortage.
Quantifying the Crisis
In the April 2021 jobs report released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), data showed that 266,000 jobs had been created, a disappointing number for many in the business community. Analysts had been expecting more than a million jobs to be created, and cited workers’ reluctance to return to work and fill currently open positions as one reason for the low job numbers. The BLS also reported that, as of the end of March, there were 8.1 million job openings, an all-time high and the fastest rate of growth since mid-2020.
While these numbers indicate that businesses are hiring, they also show that the Worker Availability Ratio (WAR), the number of available workers divided by job openings, has declined significantly in recent months. A historical review of data by the Chamber of Commerce found that there are now half as many available workers for every open job in the country as there have been on average the past 20 years. In 2012, for example, there were four available workers for every open job. Today, the figure stands at just 1.4 workers for each open job.
In certain industries and areas of the country, WAR numbers are even lower. Sectors like education, health services, government, and professional and business services have been particularly hard hit. In these areas, the WAR is below one, indicating that there are more jobs than potential workers. The U.S Chamber of Commerce also surveyed state and local chambers to collect details on the workforce challenges in their areas. In total, 90% of survey participants said that a lack of available workers was the main factor slowing the economy in their area.
According to a separate survey conducted by the Chamber of Commerce that included economists at the nation’s top trade associations, industries ranging from construction and healthcare to hospitality and computer software all reported a lack of qualified workers.
- Respondents noted that 76% of businesses in their industry find it difficult or very difficult to hire workers currently.
- When compared to hiring five years ago, 83% said it was harder or significantly harder to hire.
The construction industry has faced a large skilled labor shortage since the end of the Great Recession. Current estimates have found that the industry is short 200,000 to 300,000 workers in spite of growth in the residential construction industry. Some of the talent shortage is due to an aging workforce creating need in skilled trades such as carpentry, plumbing, electricity, and masonry. Recruiting talent into the industry when a larger share of the population now has a four-year degree is also a challenge, as is the industry’s lack of diversity. According to the National Association of Home Builders, 76% of home builders report ongoing challenges recruiting workers, and this talent shortage is an important part of why the country has underbuilt housing in the past decade.
Although the National Science Foundation has reported some growth in engineering degrees since 2000, these increases have not been enough to meet the demands of a growing economy in need of modern infrastructure. With an aging workforce and more than half of engineering master’s degrees awarded to foreign nationals unable to remain and work in the U.S. long term, firms have been unable to find experienced engineering professionals. As a result, according to the American Council of Engineering Companies, engineering firms report significant challenges recruiting for project management and mid- to senior-level engineering roles.
Workforce development is a top business challenge for the broad professional services industry. According to a Security Industry Association survey conducted in the spring of 2021, 71% of survey respondents said that hiring qualified entry-level employees was difficult or very difficult. Factors contributing to these challenges included technological advancements and competition with other industries for technical talent. The survey also noted that more than half of respondents had implemented measures such as pay increases, improved benefits, and education reimbursements to enhance their recruiting and retention efforts.
Policy Recommendations to Address the Talent Shortage
In addition to its America Works Report, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce put out The America Works Agenda: Policy Solutions to Address the Nation’s Worker Shortage. Their recommendations for closing the jobs gap included:
Helping workers acquire the skills needed for today’s open jobs
In order to build up the workforce, it will be necessary to rethink traditional job training programs. The Chamber recommends engaging and empowering employers to create the collaboratives and partnerships necessary to build talent pipelines by providing resources for skills training, including on-the-job training and apprenticeships.
Removing barriers to entering the workforce
Expanding the workforce is key to closing the jobs gap, and removing barriers to help more people seek employment will help grow the workforce. Expanding the availability of quality, affordable childcare would allow many more Americans to seek work. Automated benefits, second chance hiring, and the end of occupational licensing restrictions would also help to remove workforce barriers.
Expanding the workforce through policy reforms
Immigration has historically helped fuel the economy and thoughtful immigration policies that encourage the best and brightest to come to the U.S. for education and work would add highly qualified talent to the workforce. Increasing employment visa quotes, such as the H-1B for high-tech workers, improving opportunities for entrepreneurs to gain permanent residency, and protections for populations of critical workers would all lead to an expanded workforce that helps address the talent shortage and close the jobs gap.
Are you dealing with a post-pandemic talent shortage and searching for employees for your business? KORE1 has the industry and staffing expertise you need. Reach out now to get started.