3 Mismatches Between Workers and Employers Drive the Labor Shortage


  • A fundamental disconnect lies within the so-called labor shortage: Some people are struggling to find work.
  • Employers want experienced, in-person workers who can be available whenever, according to The Washington Post.
  • Due to the rise of remote work and the psychological affects of the pandemic, workers want something different.

Labor shortages are still dragging on, months after enhanced unemployment expired and the Delta wave peaked

However, frustrated job hunters are also reporting that they’re still struggling to find work. Some are sending in hundreds of applications but never filling one of the myriad openings that employers are bemoaning.

Paradoxically, both things are true, and they reflect one of the lingering issues in the labor market: What economists call mismatches — disconnects between the prospective workforce and the jobs that are open. 

Mismatches have been driving shortages for months now, as well as tightening opportunities for job seekers, and the latest reporting shows they haven’t gone away. The latest data release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that the number of people who are long-term unemployed — meaning they haven’t had a job for a bit over six months — dipped slightly in October, but is still at 2.3 million.

The Washington Post’s Heather Long and Eli Rosenberg broke down three mismatches that are keeping those labor holes open — and keeping prospective employees out. 

Employers want “several years of experience”

Employers “are continuing to favor candidates with several years of experience in their industry,” Long and Rosenberg write.

But that’s ignoring the ongoing trend of people looking to take advantage of the Great Reshuffle, and switch into new roles as they reexamine what they want out of work and life. That’s difficult to do when applicants with adjacent skills get filtered out by automated hiring software. 

Papia Debroy, the senior vice president of insights at Opportunity@Work, told Insider that experience filters might be leaving behind an untapped group: The 70 million workers without college degrees, who are “STARs” — Skilled Through Alternative Routes.

“Not recognizing that skills are being gained through alternative routes is not just failing these workers. It’s failing employers from finding the talent they’re looking for,” Debroy said.

Workers don’t want to be available 24/7

One mismatch coming to a head is employers’ urgent need for labor, and when employees can actually provide that labor. For instance, bartender Samuel Wiles told the Post that he’s seeing a number of bars ask for “open availability” from applicants — which means they can work any night. Wiles said he’s told all of the places he’s interviewed with that he’ll work any day other than Wednesday or Sunday; he hasn’t gotten any offers yet.

That need to hire people who can drop everything to work could be fueling the other side of the labor shortage. Bank of America researchers Aditya Bhave and Ethan Harris wrote in a September note that some businesses are making current employees work harder and longer amidst shortages; “this is not sustainable: you can only speed up the treadmill for so long,” Bhave and Harris note.

Indeed, as Insider’s Dominick Reuter reports, understaffed workplaces are foisting more work and longer hours on their current employees — leading to rampant burnout.

Workers want to be remote, employers want them in person

Flexibility has become the name of the game for many workers. That includes the current job seekers, who want the option to stay at home — even though employers want them in-person.

“I have every right to work in a safe working environment. I want to work from home, I want to keep safe,” former bartender Laviana Hampton told the Post.

In an Insider survey of 1,105 US adults from August 16 to August 17, 37% of respondents looking for a job said remote flexibility would attract them most in a job offer or incentivize them to expand their job search — outranking higher wages. But with in-person industries like leisure and hospitality still leading recovery, that may be easier said than done.



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