With unemployment so high during COVID, who would have thought that it would be followed by a worker shortage. This labor shortage has been a topic of conversation occurring on the Chamber Professionals Facebook group.
The problem is employees.
Not the ones they have now, but finding more. Businesses all over the country are finding it next to impossible to attract employees. Sadly, we’re not even qualifying it by saying “good” employees or “skilled workers.”
Often, employers can’t even get people to show up.
They’re not showing up for interviews, not answering ads, not showing up for training, and/or not showing up for their first day (or second).
This is a crisis for many communities. It’s not like employees are working on the job and realizing it’s something they don’t want to do forever. They’re not even getting that far.
Employers are frustrated. Existing employees at these businesses that can’t hire are feeling overworked. Customers of the businesses are upset with the overworked employees and blaming management.
What’s a business to do?
Two Camps and Basic Economics
So how do you help members attract more employees?
There are two basic camps in this conundrum.
Offer a Decent Wage
One camp will tell you, raise the minimum wage or offer good salaries and benefits and the employees will come.
People on this side believe the only reason a business cannot recruit worthwhile employees is because they do not look attractive to working moms and families who need to pay for child care plus factoring in other expenses like a clothing allowance (to dress for work) and gas/transportation costs.
Solve a Societal Problem
The second camp believes the problem is deeper. It’s not about an attractive wage but a lack of a desire to work.
They believe that employees have found a way other than working to achieve a desired amount of money coming in and so no increase in salary will get these people to budge. This group is not actively looking for work. They may be knocking on doors but they don’t really want anyone to answer.
Both sides are right in many ways. For most people, childcare (especially during the pandemic) makes it very costly to work. However, 30% of US households in 2020 were couples without children, so affordable childcare can’t be the reason everyone isn’t applying for jobs.
Why Don’t People Want (or aren’t looking) to Work?
So why aren’t people looking for work or why don’t they want to work?
There are multiple causes:
- The unemployment rate. In Florida, our unemployment rate is 4.8%. That’s pretty low. The U.S. average is 6.0% as of March 2021 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Most people who want to work are working. It’s an employee’s market, so to speak, with more open positions than interest.
- COVID. A pandemic realigns things for people. This could be a shuffling of priorities in what they find important in their lives. It could mean having to leave the workforce because of health issues or loved ones with health issues, a lack of childcare, or a desire for something more. A pandemic functions much the same way a near death experience could reshape your thinking. It gives people time to consider things they might not have before.
- Fear. Some people are still not interested in being around others. High contact jobs such as waiting tables or working in a grocery store may not be appealing to those who saw how quickly a pandemic can spread.
- Entrepreneurship. COVID realigned thinking for some people. One of the things that I have heard a lot of folks talk about is how they saw this pandemic as a wake-up call to follow their bliss. They viewed it as an opportunity to go out on their own.
- The end of the safety net. Many businesses struggled to stay open. Unfortunately, some had to close their doors or layoff employees. COVID was the great equalizer. You could’ve been a rockstar employee and still lost your job. That type of “disloyalty” on behalf of the employer may make some people think twice about going back to work. Suddenly jobs that were seen as “safety nets” no longer felt so safe. There are jobs out there that people don’t really want to work but do because they think of them as always being there. With that perceived safety net gone, they may no longer see the job (or jobs like it) as worth it.
- Using/abusing the system. It’s possible that this affects the fewest number of potential employees but there are people who have figured out how to make the system work for them — at least for the time being. They’re receiving federal payments, loans, and other money that pays their expenses. In the short term, it might not make financial sense to go back to work if it means getting less money (either overall or when subtracting expenses). However, if this is the sole reason they are staying out of the work force, this one will eventually dry up and they’ll be forced to return — with the disadvantage of a longer gap in employment.
Knowing the reasons people aren’t working or looking for work in your community can help your businesses figure out the best way to attract employees.
It may be of benefit to work with local economists, community leaders, and economic development people to understand the local causes behind the shortage of employees.
Help Chamber Members Find Employees in a Worker Shortage
The chamber is in a unique position to be a point of contact for both potential employees and businesses.
In most cases, this shortage isn’t about addressing a need for more skilled workers. A lot of the need exists in the hospitality and restaurant industries as well as clerical and administrative positions. Yes, many are entry-level positions that remain unfilled but not all.
Keep in mind, this dearth of employees does not appear to just be about matching those looking for work to those who have work. Many employers are complaining about people merely ghosting them and not showing up for work once they are hired or not showing up for the interview once a time is arranged. That’s why this issue needs to be addressed at all levels of the hiring process.
Here are a few things you can do to build effective bridges to address the needs on both ends.
Attracting the Right Talent
The first part of finding employees is to become an employer people want to work for. Ways your members can do this is by:
- creating a fun personality on social media.
- developing a reputation for being a good employer. That could mean making a “best places to work list” or paying one of the top salaries in the area.
- incentivizing referrals from star employees. Become the type of company your employees want to refer their friends and family to.
- encouraging employees to give back to the community. When others see this in your area, they will appreciate what the business is doing.
- offering perks or incentives that others don’t. We’ve all worked from home this year. Offering snacks is no longer going to be seen as a valuable perk. Think about what would make an employee want to come in versus working from home.
- creating job ads that get attention. Make them funny or ensure they reflect the company culture. Where is your ideal employee? Create ads they will see. This may include Facebook or other social media platforms or more creative avenues like taking an ad out in a school newsletter to attract working parents. This can be especially helpful for members who offer shift work that works around school schedules.
Courting the Talent
Next your members need to ace the interview process with those who show up. And yes, it’s a two-way interview. The business is interviewing the candidate and the candidate is interviewing the perspective employer.
- make it clear the interview is a personal experience. They will be noticed if they don’t show up. It’s not a cattle call.
- send reminders of the interview, preferably via SMS messaging.
- arrange for candidates to meet with multiple people and make sure they know they will. This will make them feel more important and introduce them to more of the team.
New employees may feel a little lost, overwhelmed, or disenchanted (hopefully not the latter) in the beginning. Having an onboarding process can do a lot to ensure they keep showing up.
These things might include:
- providing company branded swag.
- being assigned a buddy they can go to for questions without being concerned about interrupting their supervisor or sounding uninformed.
- providing solid training and setting expectations early.
- giving immediate feedback and constructive criticism.
- introducing them to happy customers.
- sharing the company mission with them and showing them examples.
- setting up a bright future and sharing specific things they can look forward to if they stay such as the summer picnic or free services once they reach a certain level.
- sharing bonuses and perks so they are aware there’s something to work toward.
- taking some time to have one-on-one conversations about what they want to do and what they like in a work environment. Listen to what they are saying.
This may be a very timely seminar or lunch and learn topic for your members. Partner with an HR consultant or employment agency to help businesses develop their onboarding process.
What Can the Chamber Do to Help Members Looking for Employees?
Now that we’ve shared what businesses can do at different stages to ensure they become an employer of choice, let’s go over what the chamber itself can help with.
- Host a job expo. Bringing all job seekers together in one spot and doing some fun things like speed networking or using signs that enumerate the benefits of each company could bring job seekers and employers together. Some chambers segment their job fairs by industry like hospitality, manufacturing, etc.
- Create a job board on the chamber website.
- Create a job seekers and leads Facebook group like the Rancho Mirage and Mason County Chambers did. This can also help you reach people who are thinking about moving to your area and don’t have employment leads. And you can gain valuable stats and insights into what job seekers need and want.
- Work with non-profits that represent groups that are often neglected in the job search or have special needs.
- Talk to childcare providers and find out their rates and availability. You could share this as a resource or possibly work out a mutually beneficial arrangement for your members.
- Encourage members to get on social media and show off their personalities. All things the same, people want to be part of a team they enjoy working toward something they believe in. Social media is a really easy way to let potential employees see behind the gate into the chocolate factory.
- Find out which types of businesses are having the most difficulty hiring. Is it manufacturing and skilled labor with the vacancies or seasonal, hospitality that needs employees? Maybe it’s all of them. Whatever the need, help them recruit accordingly. You may consider urging them to do some creative advertising outside of your area. They could approach trade schools in different parts of the country or work with the economic development people on a nationwide advertisement that blasts the benefits of your area (such as good cost of living, no income tax, good weather, or whatever else sets your town apart.)
- Encourage employers to talk openly about their working conditions. How are they safeguarding their employees from COVID?
- Help employers with brick and mortar jobs become more creative in their work protocols. For a long time employees have clamored for work-at-home perks. They finally have them so very few want to work at a physical business. However, if the business can be flexible with work schedules or shortened shifts, they may be more attractive to those who are looking to leave the home.
- Work with a committee to figure out what it takes to bring the secondary wage earners in families (usually women) back to the work force. Flexible scheduling? Childcare credits? What would bring them back?
Recruiting these days is different than times past. When there is a labor shortage, there are things employers will have to talk about in their ads or in first conversations with potential employees that only came up in second round interviews before.
Now, more than ever, a good company culture and reputation will help separate those who are able to hire easily and those who are struggling so that the worker shortage can be … short.