In January 2020 the US unemployment rate was under 4%. Historically low and trending downward. The pandemic hit and it immediately went up, but most of that was in a few targeted industries. The current unemployment rate is 4.8% and trending downward.
By the end of the third quarter of 2019, most organizations were desperate for talent. I would take calls from CEOs who would say that if I found a hundred workers for them tomorrow they would hire all 100. The Pandemic made us forget how bad hiring was prior to the pandemic!
The New Normal in Hiring is just like the Old Normal in Hiring!
In 2017-early 2020 organizations were already talking about what they would need to do to attract talent. It was about competitive wages, perks, even some conversations about remote work and variable schedules. Since we had centuries of in-office work, most organizations focused on making the office a more fun place to hang out. Free food, drinks, ping pong tables, cool spaces to work in, etc.
In Q3 of 2021, organizations are talking about how to attract and retain talent in almost the exact same way, except now more organizations are trying to add in remote and flexible work options. Don’t think work has changed or morphed into something “new”, it hasn’t, it’s still “work” and organizations will still find ways to get the talent they need to complete the work.
The pandemic was an organizational behavior black swan event.
We panicked. We had to find ways to keep people working and organizations going, even though we couldn’t be by each other. So, we did what we had to do. A few organizations actually found super high success, because of the pandemic and the dynamics it created. Most survived. Some didn’t.
Organizationally, we mostly just imitated what others were doing. Oh, you sent your folks home?! Okay, we need to do that. Oh, you have your folks come in on different shits to maintain a safe distance, we need to do that too. Oh, you make your folks wear masks when they are customer-facing, ditto…
We build processes and organizations around averages and what we could be given optimal circumstances. Things like hurricanes, pandemics, political unrest, throw historic averages all over the board, and organizationally this is extremely hard to plan for and deal with.
The Old-New Normal of Hiring.
We lost over a million moms out of the workforce. We lost close to 3 million close to retirement workers out of the workforce. We were already trending demographically in a negative worker replacement (meaning, we don’t make enough babies to replace the older people dying). These aren’t short-term issues, these are long-term issues that we saw coming in 2018 and 2019, and then we forgot!
We forgot we were already in a talent crisis, and the pandemic made this crisis much worse.
History has put us here before. After World War II it was super hard to find workers. Organizations pulled out all the stops to find talent. Things like:
- Apprenticeship programs (Build your own talent)
- Moving to markets with more talent
- Paying higher wages
- Creating immigration programs to get workers from other countries
- Developing more automation to supplement worker shortage
- Creating better working conditions and environments
- Poach talent from our competitors
- Create attractive perks
- Charging higher prices to afford all of the above
What are organizations going to do today? More of the same but the 2021 version.
Technology has taken us a long way, so we have new ideas and ways of working we didn’t have in prior generations, but the concepts are exactly the same. Exactly.
There is no magic bucket of employees. Well, wait there is, but no one seems super excited about bringing in workers from other countries who want to find their American dream by working in an Amazon warehouse or making coffee at a Starbucks. It’s really the only untapped resource we have left when it comes to talent. I’m sure there are millions of Mexican, Haitian, Venezuelan, etc. immigrants who would love to work in the jobs our own American citizens have no desire to work in. My guess is they would happily pay taxes as well to have the resources we have as Americans.
Another option also could be some version of Peace Corp but for American kids graduating high school, that they have to work two years in industry before going onto college. American Worker Corp could be like a peace-time-style draft to the military, but not to the military. Little Timmy is going to work the customer service counter at Walmart and get paid, then he hopes to go on to State U and get his degree in management! I for one think every kid should have a real job before going to college.
We do not have a new problem! We have an old problem that we ignored and it became our most recent problem. We could easily blame our politicians for this short-term focus and thinking, but every one of us who works in business also owns this. Every one of us that works in education also owns this. We all saw it coming, but we were waiting for someone else to fix it. Now, we all have to fix it.