Senior Executive Lookahead: Employers Will Continue to Face Challenges Accessing Talent

This is the second installment of our Senior Executive Lookahead blog series.
We are counting down the top five issues that should be on the radar of every human resource and business leader in 2022. Issue One, Executive Branch administrative actions will impact the employee-employer relationship, was the subject of last week’s post.

Today we explore Issue Two: Employers will continue to face challenges accessing talent despite increased federal spending.

The Great Resignation is forcing organizations across the globe to look for solutions to hire, train and retain skilled employees.

With the labor market mismatch and stalled progress on immigration reform, employers can expect continued expenditures by states and the federal government on workforce development initiatives. The effectiveness of this spending in addressing labor market needs will depend on program design and employer engagement.

While the shrinking talent pool has been a growing concern for businesses for years, the COVID-19 pandemic and the skills gap crisis have intensified the issue.

According to a monthly survey of small businesses by the National Federation of Independent Business, 25 percent of respondents pointed to a lack of qualified labor as their biggest challenge. Fifty-seven percent of respondents to that survey reported there were “few or no qualified applicants for open positions.” 

The squeeze of a tight labor market is not expected to give way any time soon. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that, due to aging labor force participation, the labor force will see a decline from 61.7 percent in 2020 to 60.4 percent in 2030. 

In response, the federal government has renewed efforts to expand apprenticeship programs, proposed workforce development initiatives, and changed or adjusted various student and worker visa programs. One such cross-agency initiative aimed at expanding the talent pool is the Hiring Initiative to Reimagine Equity (HIRE). 

Headed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and Department of Labor’s (DOL’s) Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), HIRE is aimed at identifying innovative and evidence-based practices to help employers access untapped talent across the country. The initiative will look for ways to remove hiring barriers for workers based on race, ethnicity, gender, LGBTQ status, religion and other factors. I had a productive meeting with the HIRE team last week, and SHRM External Affairs staff and I will continue engaging with EEOC an DOL to share our expertise.

The administration also announced last week it would make 20,000 additional H-2B nonagricultural worker visas available for hiring in the winter months. And we heard good news for businesses in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math). 

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) just announced new initiatives and guidance to facilitate work and student visas for people seeking to pursue STEM careers. Additionally, ECA has announced its Early Career STEM Research Initiative to facilitate nonimmigrant Bridge USA exchange visitors who want to work in STEM.

SHRM advises employers struggling to find qualified applicants to re-evaluate the framework in which they assess applicant qualifications. To make sourcing and recruitment more effective, organizations should define their needs and then build the ideal persona for job candidates. 

Another smart tactic is to remove arbitrary barriers to entry. Requiring a bachelor’s degree is a perfect example. Only one-third of American workers possesses one, but companies continue to list a bachelor’s as a minimum requirement for many entry-level positions. 

SHRM also advocates for companies to tap into traditionally overlooked talent pools, especially people with criminal records, older applicants, and workers with disabilities.

Companies should also look within when trying to fill positions. According to SHRM Research, 3 in 4 workers say they’re interested in engaging in more learning and career development activities than they currently are. 

However, SHRM found the percentage of organizations offering undergraduate or graduate tuition assistance dropped by nine percent since 2019 and only eight percent of companies offered student loan repayment assistance. Education benefits, including support for professional certifications, are ripe for expansion.

While the skills gap is daunting, employers have tools to make it far more surmountable. 

As an advocate for the HR profession, you have a unique and valuable perspective on the changing world of work and how advocacy can make an impact with policymakers and in your workplace. Are you a member of SHRM’s Advocacy Team? Join today or text ATEAM to 52886.

The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.

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