An executive with a labor market analytics firm says employers need to focus on attracting workers and help employees build on existing skills.
That was the message from Mindi Woodson, senior vice president of Lightcast, a company headquartered in Boston, Mass., and Moscow, Idaho, who spoke during a State of the Workforce Event March 24 at the Bridgewater Club in Westfield. The event provided attendees with an insight into the state of local employment and its projected growth, challenges and how employers can adapt.
Woodson told those in attendance about factors that have impacted the labor crisis before and after the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.Woodson also spoke about the workforce dating back to the 1970s, saying that it doubled as more women sought employment.
“All the competition led to baby boomers going to college to get degrees at a much higher rate than ever before. They worked really hard and made a lot of money,” Woodson said.
However, she said around 2002, the upward trend peaked as many baby boomers retired, while at the same time millennials started entering the workforce in a different way. That resulted in the workforce shrinking faster than it was growing, she added.
“The millennials are the babies of the boomers. The millennials saw their parents working really hard and not spending time at home with their families. The millennial will choose flexibility over money,” Woodson said.
Woodson said COVID-19 prompted people ages 55 and over to retire early. Millennials are working differently than baby boomers did, and the youngest workers are not working, she added.
“Labor force participation needs to improve,” Woodson said.
Today, the U.S labor force is challenged with demand for employment outpacing work population growth, according to Woodson. Since 2011, youth in the labor force has dropped by 9,000 per year according to Woodson.
“We need to add 2 million additional workers a year to keep up with that demand,” Woodson said.
Woodson said the only way to meet the demands of the workforce is to make intentional changes. To do that, she said employers must attract more workers and suggested that employers create career paths by helping employees build on existing skills.
“Focusing on skills is really important because then inside the organization, they can create programs to make sure that they’re upskilling their employees in ways to actually advance their careers and you can show them they’ll make more money along the way,” Woodson said.
Another suggestion she offered was more flexibility.
“The people want flexibility and there are so many ways to give it. Remote jobs have come up and floating start times,” Woodson said.
Woodson said there are 5.3 million more job openings than available workers. The number of missing workers gives her confidence that the state of the workforce can be improved.
“Think about ways you can make it easier to get the people who want a job and cannot get a job,” Woodson said.