The shortage of workers in America is no secret, and there are a myriad of reasons Help Wanted signs are popping up in seemingly every restaurant, factory, and business. Most Americans by now have experienced long wait times in restaurants, disrupted supply chains due to a shortage of truck drivers, and skeleton staff at many businesses which they frequent. If companies are going to stay afloat, they will need to adapt to survive this worker shortage crisis, and they must be willing to give new ideas a try.
The problem goes beyond the pandemic and has been brewing for a while. The numbers just don’t add up. According to CNBC, there were 9.5 million Americans looking for work in June, according to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Additionally, there are a record high 9.2 million job openings. Statistically, there is actually a worker for each open job. On the surface, this seems like an easy fix. Match the open job with an unemployed person and all is well.
However, there is a definite mismatch between the jobs that are open and the skills the unemployed have. Minneapolis employers, for instance, told the Fed “The need for more training or education were moderate or significant challenges.” CNBC also reported, for instance, that Atlanta businesses were experiencing shortages of drivers, nurses, skilled trades workers, and IT professionals, while in Dallas there are many more open positions than qualified candidates.
The manufacturing, retail and service industries are experiencing the worst labor shortages, often because the difficult customer service interactions, physical labor, and repetitive duties are not very fulfilling for the workers. And even before the pandemic struck, managers and employers were already noticing these trends. Workers were not prepared with the skills they needed, and they were also unwilling to do repetitive, unrewarding jobs. The pandemic Super-sized the problem.
In addition to the mismatch between open jobs and candidates’ skill levels, there are still people who are afraid of the health ramifications of Covid-19, or who are caring for young children whose schools are not quite back on track. Add this to the fact that a plethora of Baby Boomers have taken this crisis as a sign to retire, and that is another hit to the workforce.
Finally, the government has been generous with pandemic relief packages, and that has allowed many people to stay home from jobs they didn’t love. “Economists are split on whether this is the driving reason businesses can’t find enough workers, and by one estimate only four in ten workers actually make more in jobless benefits than from a paycheck.” The last of the benefits will expire this week, so that at least will be another incentive for workers to get back on the job trail.
To employers throughout the country, it is clear that businesses are going to have to adapt in order to survive. The Help Wanted signs in the windows are growing dusty, and customers are growing cranky without the proper workforce to give them the goods and services they need.
There are many ways that employers can remedy the situation. Clearly, increasing employee compensation is going to entice more workers to the company. Many industries have already done this, adding sign-on bonuses and luring workers with financial benefits.
Besides money, employees need training, upskilling, and experiential learning in order to give them the skills they are lacking which could fill positions. Taking the time to train new employees will fill the need and also give employees more loyalty to the company.
Company leaders also need to think outside of the box if they want to gather a quality workforce. One way to do this is to drop arbitrary barriers to employment, such as college degrees, and deal with each case individually. Employers also should consider consultants who are not employed full time but could do specific dedicated projects for a company without the burden of being on the payroll full time.
One solution that is rising to the top is the use of AI (artificial intelligence). Although people have long feared technology taking over jobs, it can be a help, not just a hindrance. With higher labor cost and not enough workers to go around, companies are more willing to automate parts of the service sector. Using technology actually boosts productivity, which has a positive impact on the economy. Even something as simple as self-service kiosks popping up in the grocery stores is considered AI.
A survey last year by the nonprofit World Economic Forum found that 43% of companies planned to reduce their workforce as a result of new technology. Since the second quarter of 2020, business investment in equipment has grown 26%, more than twice as fast as the overall economy.
AI can do many things to help a business, such as showing employees where safety hazards lurk, doing training, and doing mundane, repetitive tasks that allow workers to do more important jobs. Conversational AI takes it one step further, allowing human-like interactions and machine learning that can do the more mundane customer service jobs.
AP News reported, “Improvements in robot technology allow machines to do many tasks that previously required people—tossing pizza dough, transporting hospital linens, inspecting gauges, sorting goods. The pandemic accelerated their adoption. Robots, after all, can’t get sick or spread disease. Nor do they request time off to handle unexpected childcare emergencies.”
Business Insider explains that automated solutions are usually onetime investments, because there will be no expensive staffing crisis, and no signing bonuses are needed for robots. The AI technology itself is also getting cheaper.
“The falling cost of sensors and actuators, plus the growing power and accessibility of the software to drive them, is being combined with systems for automated handling of food that have been used for years in factories that mass-produce things like frozen meals and ready-to-eat snacks,” says Doug Foreman, an entrepreneur who created and sold the Guiltless Gourmet and Benaitos brands. These same robots could show up at the corner fast food place to take your order.
From the wait times at restaurants to the supply chain breakdowns, it is obvious that our country is facing a crisis of employment. Employers must pivot and find alternative solutions if they are going to keep their businesses viable in the future.