By the time official numbers were released, few were surprised.
Help wanted signs have begun to feel like permanent fixtures in the front windows of many U.S. businesses. In March, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce reported a record 8.1 million job openings in the country. About half as many workers are available for every open job, the biggest gap in 20 years, and April's jobs report numbers showed the situation worsening.
By May, many were calling the shortage an economic emergency.
"I haven't talked to a single client that hasn't mentioned a labor shortage issue," said Nathan Jacks, a corporate banking relationship manager for BOK Financial®. "And it's not unique to industry or skill level—it's across the board."
Across the U.S., countless factors are at play.
"Generous unemployment benefits are hard to compete with, but that's just one of a host of factors keeping people from returning to, or entering, the workforce," he said. "Childcare continues to be an issue for many. School-from-home posed a challenge, closures of daycares and afterschool programs posed a challenge, and now summer poses a challenge."
Jacks said general concerns about health and safety are another deterrent.
"People still have fear around rushing to return," he said. "And for some, that might take time to subside."
But creative solutions are in the works at the employer and state level.
States like Oklahoma and Colorado are offering a $1,200 incentive for qualifying individuals to return to the workforce. Other states, like Arizona and Texas, are ending the enhanced $300 per week unemployment benefit.
Legislation proposed at the federal level would expand a tax credit for employers that hire disadvantaged workers. Another proposal would allocate federal funding to workforce development groups.
“Your business has a powerful and unique story—lead with that when attempting to attract new employees.”- Nathan Jacks, corporate banking relationship manager
While waiting for the tide to change, Jacks suggests businesses use this time for some self-analysis by:
- Reviewing their recruiting methods
- Considering allowance of hybrid or work-from-home arrangements
- Working with a consultant to create a more attractive and targeted benefits package
- Evaluating how and where the open positions are being advertised
- Considering out-of-the-box skillsets and experience to open a new candidate pool
"In an environment like this one, it would be easy to get tunnel vision and blame the unemployment benefits as the sole reason for the shortage," said Jacks. "But that's not entirely true or productive. By being all-in on that reasoning, you're missing the opportunity for growth and progress."
If he had one piece of advice to offer business owners experiencing labor shortage stress, it would be to have patience.
"Things are moving quickly," he said. "Don't get caught up in the panic or the adrenaline of the situation and make a wrong hire. We all know how costly or damaging that can be. Do your due diligence and make strategic decisions here."
In the midst of the overwhelmed labor talent recruitment process, Jacks says businesses could help create employee and candidate peace of mind.
"Chances are, you've got a great story to tell," said Jacks. "You've been listening to your employees and hearing their concerns. You've met their needs and cared about their safety through a pandemic. Your business has a powerful and unique story—lead with that when attempting to attract new employees."