Your Workforce by Roger Herman

Labor Shortage Ahead
Impending Crisis: Too Many Jobs, Too Few People

Over the past two years, employers have been lulled into complacency by the stable employment market. With the slowed economy, fewer jobs have been available, so workers have cocooned in their current positions. All is quiet, but not for long.

The economy is heating up. More jobs will open and thousands of workers will move from unemployment rolls to the tax rolls. Employers will seek to hire the best talent they can find: the "A" players. Many of those coveted workers are already employed, so expect increased turnover as hiring picks up again. Workers who are underemployed or are dissatisfied will look for better opportunities. Employee retention will again become a nightmare for most employers.

The down economy has masked the continual growth of employment. More jobs are being created in healthcare, personal services, the trades, business and finance, and a wide range of computer-related fields. There are plenty of openings, but the strong job-change movement won't start until people sense the economy is getting strong again. That time is right around the corner.

Over the past few months, in our down economy with relatively high unemployment, I've asked a curious question of my speaking audiences. "How many companies represented here have more than one position that you have not been able to fill?" Hands go up from about ¾ of the audience! When I start with the follow-up about three vacancies, four vacancies, etc, many of the hands stay up. Given current conditions, imagine what will happen as the economy-and competition for people-heat up!

The Numbers

Trend lines, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, show us moving toward a record number of jobs in our economy. Analysts forecast that we will have 167,754,000 jobs to be filled in 2010, just over seven years from now. That's exciting, until you learn that we'll only have 157,721,000 people to fill those jobs! We're facing a shortage of 10,033,000 workers in less than seven years. Let's see . . . seven years times 365 days = 2,555 days.

It's easy to say that 2010 is "so far away," but the shortage won't suddenly burst on the scene in 2500 days. Statistics reveal that we have a shortage of over 4,731,000 people today. We don't feel the pinch because so many of those jobs remain unfilled until the economy picks up. How many vacant positions do you have today? How will that change in, say, six months?

Impending Crisis

Human resource professionals must be alert to the consequences of the trends: we're heading for a crisis of unprecedented proportions. There are two aspects to the crisis. First is the increasing difficulty of finding and keeping skilled workers. Second is that corporate leadership will be challenged as never before . . . and most executives and managers are not prepared. Too many bosses have been trained and reinforced to be autocratic managers. That style won't fly with today's employees-especially the kind of people you want to attract in the years ahead. Are your key people managers or leaders? Are they ready to function in a more turbulent operating environment?

Advice? Look carefully at the people who work for you today. Would you hire them again? If not, it may be time for them to go, replaced by workers who are competent to get the job done. Will your top talent want to stay with you if they get offers somewhere else? What will hold them? Hint: it's not just the money.

Don't wait. Take steps now to strengthen leadership, enhance strategic staffing, challenge the way you do business. Assert yourself!

Roger Herman is owner of The Herman Group, Greensboro, NC and is a specialist in employee retention.


To submit your letter to the editor here at American Recycler, click here.