April 12, 2022

Beyond the Media Narrative: The Realities of the Labor Shortage

Human resources teams in nearly every industry are facing an unprecedented talent crisis.

Across the country, businesses are struggling to fill millions of job openings, while at the same time millions of people are unemployed. It’s a conundrum that has left companies desperately understaffed and seeking answers for why so many workers are either quitting their jobs or choosing not to return to work.

The media narrative overwhelmingly suggests that it’s a consequence of either employees simply not wanting to work or employers refusing to make changes to encourage employees to return to the workplace. Such explanations, however, are rooted in myth.The reality is more complicated than that.

Reality: People Want Better Jobs and More Meaningful Work

People want to work. However, the pandemic has changed the way employees view work. The time away from the office coupled with shifting priorities have left people wanting better jobs doing more meaningful work.

“Contrary to what headlines may suggest, workers are not simply quitting their jobs to sit on the sidelines,” write Justin Schweitzer and Rose Khattar at the Center for American Progress. “Rather, they are switching jobs — perhaps even industries — for better pay, benefits, and working conditions,” suggest the authors.

In short, employees are tired of being undervalued for the contributions they make at work and expect employers to do better at rewarding them for their efforts.

They also want more meaningful work. Gone are the days when workers were willing to sacrifice their home life for the sake of bringing home a paycheck. Now, they are seeking jobs that give them a better work/life balance doing a job that makes an impact.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has people everywhere reevaluating their lives and work, and many now expect their jobs to be a significant source of purpose in their lives,” writes the team at McKinsey & Company. “Employers — ready or not — will need to help meet this need, or be prepared to lose talent to companies that will.”

A lot of companies simply weren’t prepared, and HR teams continue to struggle to navigate these new expectations, which is creating a disconnect between the company and employees. That disconnect is fueling the labor shortage many organizations are experiencing.

Artificial rock climbing wall with grips for hands and feet in outdoor adventure park; labor shortage concept

Reality: Employers Struggle to Navigate New Worker Expectations

Adapting to the new expectations of employees hasn’t been easy for organizations. The changes in people’s attitudes about work during the pandemic has left leaders scrambling to understand exactly what it is employees want and how to deliver on those expectations in the context of the company’s capabilities.

Many are conducting surveys and focus groups to collect this critical information from employees, which is a good starting point. But the effort doesn’t end there. HR teams then have to actually implement changes based on the insights they collect from employees to entice workers to join the company and retain employees.

“The critical thing is not just to collect feedback, but to act on it,” says Emily Heffter, head of public relations and corporate communications at experience management platform Qualtrics.

Those types of changes don’t happen overnight. It takes a tremendous investment of resources to transform talent acquisition and management practices. In the interim, roles are going unfilled.

Reality: The Skills Gap is Difficult to Close

The pandemic didn’t create the skills gaps plaguing companies, but it certainly exacerbated the problem. A recent survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management shows that nearly 60 percent of organizations can’t find people with the skills they need to fill open positions while 30 percent of job seekers indicate available jobs don’t match their skills or interests. This disconnect is another reason why roles continue to go unfilled.

With millions of people looking for jobs, the talent is out there. Employers are just struggling to find it.

There are a number of reasons why closing the skills gap is so difficult for employers, with outdated talent acquisition strategies topping that list. The strategies that may be holding employers back from finding talent with the right skills include:

  • Vetting candidates for current fit rather than potential.
  • Creating job descriptions that are implicitly biased.
  • Focusing on credentials instead of skills.
  • Pulling from familiar talent pools.

Companies are attempting to solve this problem by embracing the power of AI-backed talent intelligence tools. With them, HR teams can develop more relevant talent acquisition strategies to find candidates who close the skills gaps. However, adopting new tech stacks is a long process. While the technology is being implemented, roles go unfilled.

There’s no one explanation for why employers can’t find workers when millions of people are unemployed. There are a number of different factors impacting labor supply and demand, and HR teams have been tasked with figuring out solutions to these problems. It’s a daunting task with no easy answers, which is a big reason why there continues to be a labor shortage. While AI-backed talent intelligence tools won’t solve everything, they are a critical component to solving the problem.

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