Bill Rubin column: Employers face workplace challenges head-on
It seems "Help Wanted" signs have replaced "Garage Sale" signs as the least popular among community beautification advocates. Street right-of-ways are littered with "Apply Today" and "Top Pay for Second Shift" messages. Compare those to a real attention-getter and perhaps best garage sale sign from a couple years back, "Huge Baby Sale This Weekend." The curiosity factor alone was enough to stop for that sale.
The facts are clear. More people are working today than ever. Meanwhile, job openings continue to grow and usually go unfilled. The Bureau of Labor Statistics, a number person's favorite bureau, reported in mid-March on 7.6 million job vacancies for January. For comparison, December's vacancies came in at 7.34 million, at the time, a record number. The difference in those two estimates yields a big city. A previous estimate from Labor said 6.5 million Americans qualified as unemployed. A big city just morphed into a major metro area.
The Bureau of Labor also measures something called workforce participation. It is expressed as a percentage of people, say, 16 years old through retirement age, who are working, or at least actively seeking employment, compared to the entire pool of 16- to mid-60 year-olds. Wisconsin is considered among the top states in workforce participation, yet the measure is around 67-68 percent. The U.S. rate lags behind at around 63 percent. Imagine the impact if the needle ticked up one- to two-tenths of a percent!
Are there solutions? A foundation operated by Wisconsin's largest business organization, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, recently released a report on the state's workforce challenges. Several recommendations were offered, including: attract and retain talent; upskill existing workers; improve career pathways; promote apprenticeships and other work-based learning for students; promote career awareness; and reach disconnected groups.
For go-getters coming out of high schools, technical colleges and universities, and even military service, opportunities are abundant. These may be the best of times. For certain, employers from business and industry are happy to connect. A bonus may come with a job offer. Higher wages, salaries and benefits have counteracted the tight labor market.
In the match-making game of employment, here's to happy endings among jobseekers and employers.