When people learn that I’m in the HR outsourcing business and that our team provides hiring management services, I often get asked, “Has it been difficult for your clients to hire new employees?” The short answer: it depends.
Overall, the hiring environment is undoubtedly more challenging than it was two years ago. Blue-collar positions – for example, warehousing, logistics, truck drivers, skilled laborers – are in much higher demand. There are more openings in healthcare and K-12 education than two years ago. As the service industry rebounds post-COVID, positions like cooks, wait staff, and hospitality workers are needed. With white collar positions, it truly depends on the industry and position.
However, this is nothing new! The shortage has been building over the last 8-10 years. Based on my experience, several factors have converged to create the labor shortfall.
• As Baby Boomers retire, there are fewer available people in the workforce. This is hitting many professions very hard. (Again, we heard projections about this 10 years ago. We shouldn’t be surprised.)
• The generations that followed the Boomers had fewer children per family, leading to fewer people in the labor pool.
• As our society encouraged post-secondary education, the available workforce is more likely to be formally educated. They are seeking professional jobs and leaving gaps in the blue-collar and skilled workforces.
• On top of these macro trends, enter COVID-19. We all know that unemployment benefits allowed many people to earn more sitting at home. Who can blame someone who normally works hard but was laid off for not taking advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime break? Some of the unemployed have not made their way back to the workforce.
• Some people are still terrified of contracting COVID-19 or are using it as an excuse. Either way, some of these people have opted not to return to work.
• Unpredictable childcare situations have forced a family member to stay home with the kids.
• COVID presented an opportunity for people to become introspective and re-evaluate their employment choices. Some made changes that involved new careers, relocating, retiring, starting a business, and so on.
It’s easy – and sometimes politically expedient – to want to pin the blame on a single cause. But the reality is much more layered and nuanced.
In industries where the labor market is especially tight — for example, many blue-color positions — the speed of the hiring process is more important than ever. You still need to identify your best prospects and follow good hiring practices, but you need to act in a tighter window of time. Conducting all or most hiring steps in 1-2 days could put you at an advantage.
Job-seekers: be ready for companies to want to do a phone interview, have an in-person or zoom interview, check your references and do a background check more quickly than ever before. If employers are ready to hire quickly, you should be ready to be hired quickly.
In addition to expediting the hiring process, you also need to make your workplace look more attractive. After all, you are competing for a scarce resource: qualified workers. In HR, we call this managing your “employer brand,” or your reputation as a workplace. Work on your online reviews and workplace perception on places like Glassdoor and Google. Make sure your website’s careers page differentiates you as a company. Savvy applicants do their homework, especially in a sellers’ market.
Also, stop referring to job postings as “job descriptions.” A job posting should focus on what’s in it for the applicant. Job postings are meant to attract good people. Job descriptions are meant for internal management. Think like an applicant.
Don’t despair if your job postings aren’t attracting good candidates. Take them down for a week or two, then repost. Your “new” post will be at the top of job listing websites and look fresh for a bit.
Finally, I know I’ve written about this in previous columns but it bears repeating: although it may seem counterintuitive, your first focus should be on retaining your current employees. Assuming they are performing for you, the cost of losing them is much greater than it is to hire new employees and train them from scratch. If you’re having issues with retention, now is the time to make some changes. Conduct an employee survey, make your workplace more enjoyable and attractive. Word gets around and applicants know the “good” vs. “great” places to work.
Most importantly, treat your employees like they matter, let them know they do, and keep it going all year long. It will make a difference in your recruiting efforts. Each employee should be an ambassador for your workplace. In a tight labor market, you need every edge you can get.