Post-Pandemic Hiring slams into The US Labor Shortage
Hiring managers, recruiters, and companies of all sizes are starved for skilled talent in the pandemic fueled age of The Great Resignation and The Great Reshuffle. In fact, most labor industry experts agree the market for talent was growing tighter even before we all knew how to spell coronavirus. In 2019 companies across the US felt the worker shortage pinch mainly for good reasons, such as economic expansion and the lowest unemployment rate since 1969. The proverbial blank hit the labor shortage fan when pandemic shutdowns were followed by skittish attempts of reopening due to COVID-19 variants. This on again-off again roller coaster has left many workers either reluctant to reenter the job market or enticed to leave the status quo as means of self-preservation. Thus, the subsequent pressure to source vital talent is daunting even for the best of hiring managers as we enter another attempt of post-pandemic return to work normalcy. The good news is unique opportunity presents in this pending next chapter and talent acquisition will prove to be business gold for those who know where and how to mine.
Acquiring skilled talent will be your business gold boon – If you know how to mine
The truth is the post-pandemic era remains uncertain to say the least; with the US now finding itself on the back end of the most recent variant wave. As this omicron regression and/or containment hopefully continues, the future is indeed murky, but most persons in the know sense a graduation from the defined pandemic phase to a blurred endemic one. In other words, the virus isn’t going away anytime soon, but we’re learning to live with it come what may.
It could be said that we’ve knocked on endemicity’s door before and that didn’t work-out so well. When US viral numbers plummeted in Spring 2021, many thought that was the beginning of the post-pandemic era, delta and omicron said not so fast. So, what’s different now? …
Fortunately, a lot: Levels of immunity garnered by vaccination, boosters, and/or past infection combined with testing and approved treatments lend a level of comfort that wasn’t readily available last spring. Even with recent rising case number in Europe and Asia, predominately tied to omicron’s subvariant BA.2, western nations remain steadfast on reopening their economies and pulling back large public health controls.
Whether now is the time for mitigation retraction remains to be seen, but the fact is we’re entering some flavor of a quasi-post-pandemic and/or endemic phase. Further, the anticipated economic expansion that comes with endemicity has already kicked into gear. In 2021 the US experienced its greatest economic growth in decades, this in spite of COVID variant setbacks. Thus, as Americans wonder whether they should lower their masks, the next chapter has already landed and slams headfirst into the US labor shortage. The question likely keeping heads of business and their hiring managers up at night is: Where will this elusive talent come from to meet the pending endemicity demand?
Throughout the pandemic, businesses turned to levels of smart automation, machine learning, and robotics process automation to fill human labor gaps. This made good sense during COVID shut downs et al. In fact, some industry prognosticators thought this adaption to smart technology would be a tipping points of sorts, ultimately lessening industry’s reliance on human capital…this has not happened. The interesting thing, at least from this recruiter’s perspective, is automation doesn’t necessarily eliminate the human talent need, it often just redefines it. Further, the pandemic has forced something upon the labor capital conversation that perhaps wasn’t acknowledged much before — The need for human interaction cannot be discounted, especially in business. Global protests against lockdowns, quarantining, and for that fact, mask mandates, are often promulgated on the personal liberty stance; however, such may have foundation in our fundamental need to interact with each other. When it comes to good business the sentimental truth is people need people to thrive, thus industry needs people to thrive.
Ironically, the pandemic both amplifies the labor crisis as well as presents unique opportunity to fill shortage gaps. The shift from in-person employment to a work-from-home or remote model is prime example. Companies that had embraced such prior to COVID-19 likely rode variant waves better than their traditional work-from-office counterparts. Similar to automation, the trend to remote employment flourished during the pandemic as society went to work from the kitchen table. By and large, the future of jobs will likely be a mix between levels of automation, work-from-home, and traditional in-person employment. Having this hybrid and/or contingent work balance is just good business sense in our world. Removing the pandemic from the conversation for a moment, we are still living in tenuous times, with climate change disruption and geopolitical uncertainty. At the penning of this paper Russia has invaded the peaceful and sovereign nation of Ukraine. This will undoubtedly lead to massive global disruption and a battle for geopolitical positioning not seen since post WWII. Moreover, the reverberation will be felt within all industry. If nothing else, the pandemic has been a great educator on the ripple effect of our global interdependence. Thus, the sooner companies establish their hybrid and/or contingency work model, the better positioned they will be as the US enters the endemic economy now combined with global unrest.
In whichever manner companies structure their return-to-work model, the key component is flexibility – and not just regular flexibility, but pandemic flexibility. Both employers and employees must possess the resilience to thrive in the emerging next normal. As much as we’d like to put COVID-19 in the rear-view mirror, the fact is virus variants will likely present ensuing challenge. Thus, our workforce should be both mentally and physically prepared to shift their production model as needed. When hiring for talent, this nimble factor should be top of the must-haves list. Finding talent also has to be nimble with hiring managers being open-minded to where and how they source skilled labor. Of course, traditional methods still apply such as job boards, mining LinkedIn, and utilizing savvy recruiters (shameless plug here), but seeking talent in what I call post-pandemic hiring pockets should be incorporated into the strategy.
Following are my top three hiring pocket suggestions:
The return of the working woman
One hiring pocket is the return of women to the labor force. According to the Society for Human Resource Management SHRM, nearly two million US women remain sidelined from job reentry since the start of the pandemic. In comparison, their male counterpart has largely returned to pre-pandemic levels of employment. When the pandemic first hit both men and women retreated from the work force for varied reasons, either voluntarily, furloughed, or simply let go. But for working women the pandemic and those skittish attempts of reopening have hindered substantial employment reengagement thus far.
Interestedly, it wasn’t just school shutdowns that has led to this workplace downsizing. Women carry a distinctive pandemic weight on their shoulders, specifically working mothers and/or those caring for aging, vulnerable family members. In many instance women became the home
health proxy (both physical and mental), home school educator, and supply chain manager for everyone in their family. The responsibility of keeping family members safe, fed, educated, and sane largely fell upon women. Should they have young children, the pressure has been prolonged, as children were last to receive approval for protective COVID-19 vaccines (to date those under five years of age are still not eligible). Now as the US is on road to aspects of the post-pandemic recovery, the hope is schools and elder-care facility will dependably remain open, thus, relieving the burden working women incurred during shutdowns. Shrewd hiring companies offering that hybrid work/life balance will have advantage when luring this cohort back.
Not just your regular graduate
Another hiring pocket is not so much unique as it is a matter of timing. Though universities have incurred a decrease in undergraduate enrollment during the pandemic, they’ve experienced steady increases within the graduate side of the equation. This dichotomy maybe because as universities struggled to maintain student headcount during shutdowns, they offered enticing remote learning options to recent graduates. Thus, many graduates decided to hold off entering the labor market and continue onto their advanced degree as they rode out pandemic waves.
This cohort will be graduating within the next year or two and may prove to be a more matured hiring lot when compared to their predecessors (pandemics have a way of doing this). They are nimble by their very nature and technology savvy, especially with hybrid production models. They are ready to be trained and guided for what their career future may hold.
A veritable army of skilled talent seeking new employment
My final post-pandemic hiring pocket is one close to my heart. During the rise of coronavirus many states and local municipalities amassed a veritable army of skilled workers who are now hitting the job market. At the height of the pandemic New York State alone hired thousands of employees dedicated to the COVID-19 Contact Tracing Initiative. Most of these employees entered the gate with varied background and not from where one would expect. Yes, in the early days contact tracers were established health care professionals stemming from local health departments. But as the virus proved itself a formidable foe, states had to beef up public health measure and beef up fast. The talent they amassed came from many industry sectors including: technology, law, engineering, journalism, and sales to name a few.
The common fabric is this workforce is smart and agile. They can absorb information fast, pivot easily, and apply ever shifting protocol in real time. The force is also well trained to deal with high-stress scenario, engage de-escalation techniques all while utilizing the art of the consultative sell.
With COVID-19 entering its third year, these skilled workers find themselves seeking new employment - Not because they aren’t highly capable but perhaps, because they did their job too well. Moreover, the perceived need is no longer there; even should an ugly variant emerge, the mindset on a national and state level is leaning away from large public health measure to more a personal responsibility model. Thus, this skilled cohort presents golden opportunity for the savvy hiring manager.
As the US prepares to embrace aspects of the endemic chapter, the sober reality is COVID-19 has taught us not to underestimate the bug’s ability to shape shift at will. Learned scientists remind us the virus is ever evolving; thus, we must be nimble and evolve too. This applies to business and the acquisition of essential human capital. There is skilled talent for the mining if you know where and how to look. When entering this next phase: being nimble, establishing that balance between automation, remote-work, and in-person employment while sourcing skilled talent is key to business success. No one has a crystal ball, but there is some certainty we can bank on – All pandemics ultimately come to an end and what follows is largely up to us.
Kathryn Casale is an industry specialist for the recruitment and acquisition of executive level RPA, AI, and Intelligent Automation talent. In addition, she is a Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Certified Covid-19 Contact Tracer & Case Investigator. Kathryn has served local government and community boards.