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Finding Qualified Workers in a Tight Labor Market

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Saunji Fyffe
November 16, 2019

Across the country, the labor market is tight. The demand for workers is high, yet the supply of potential workers, especially the pool of skilled workers, is low. Employers, regardless of the industry, have raised concerns about hiring and retaining workers. In fact, some employers expressed concern that the individuals who may match their skilled labor needs are not available in their respective metropolitan areas, or even the state in which their organizations operate. While the short supply of workers can be attributed to a robust economy producing a high number of jobs at a fast rate, an aging workforce, with many older workers retiring or planning to do so soon, is a key contributing factor. Moreover, potential and available workers often do not have the appropriate skills and qualifications that organizations need. A tight labor market, demands for new and different skillsets and an aging workforce means government and nonprofit employers need to approach workforce planning in more strategic ways.

Since the great recession that occurred over a decade ago, higher skilled service industries, such as information technology, health care, education and finance, have experienced significant employment growth. The problem is that baby boomer workers in these positions are preparing for retirement, and potential workers often do not have the training and specific skillset employers need to fill these jobs. Although employers are struggling to hire and retain quality workers, the tight labor market also presents opportunities for government and nonprofit organizations to implement new and innovative strategies to embrace and respond to contextual changes, challenge the status quo and even take risks applying unconventional methods to fill vacancies. 

 Tapping into and Incentivizing Older Workers

Some organizations are navigating the tight labor market by tapping into the pool of older workers. The senior labor market is full of individuals with experience, specialized skillsets and institutional knowledge that organizations cannot afford to overlook. Organizations facing a wave of retirements are proactively looking at incentives to retain older workers. Such incentives include part-time schedules, remote and flexible work options and modified job responsibilities, offering new career paths and more. Additionally, strategies may include persuading retired workers to return or using staffing agencies that specialize in placing senior workers.

Whereas senior workers may have been considered lame ducks in the workplace, employers recognize that they are crucial to organizational success. Some surveys show that employers view the loss of institutional knowledge and talent when older workers retire to be more of a significant workforce issue than finding potential workers to fill the skills gaps. Since organizations are pursuing strategies to retain employees at or close to retirement, human resources staff must be cognizant of the accommodations needed to entice older workers to stay on, as well as consider what is needed to effectively manage multiple generations in the workplace. Although organizations are finding that older workers provide a valuable and reliable source of talent, tapping into senior workers may not be enough.

Partnering with Education and Training Providers

The steady growth in higher skilled jobs has outpaced the availability of qualified workers. Potential workers often do not have the experience, skills or education requirements that are in demand. As a result, organizations are partnering with local education and training providers to train potential workers.  For example, the shortage of individuals qualified to pursue the many cybersecurity vacancies has resulted in organizations seeking out new partnerships with high schools, community colleges and historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to establish certificate and degree programs to equip potential workers with the skillsets needed to fill these jobs.

Seeking new ways to engage and collaborate with education and training providers can help employers create a high-skilled, productive workforce. However, ensuring potential workers can access these programs is an important consideration that cannot be ignored. Making the education and training available is not enough; it also must be accessible and affordable. Barriers such as cost, childcare and location can prevent potential workers from participating in these programs. Therefore, employers may need to make more of an investment to ensure these partnerships generate the pool of applicants they desire.

Finding qualified workers in a tight labor market is tough. Therefore, organizations may need to do more to make sure the workplace is a great place to work and creates good work/life balance. Though there is no simple fix, making the effort could pay off as employers may discover new sources of talent to grow a competitive and innovative workforce for years to come.

Author: Saunji D. Fyffe, Ph.D., is a consultant specializing in program monitoring and evaluation.  This article is based on her experience working with government and nonprofit agencies to build capacity and implement performance measurement and management. For additional information, email [email protected].


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