Ask any company what issues are high on their priority list these days and most will invariably say “attracting and retaining qualified workers” is one of them. In today’s highly competitive labor market, traditional recruiting and retention strategies just don’t seem to be as effective as they once were. National and state workforce studies indicate there are several primary reasons for this:
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in occupations requiring at least a bachelor’s degree is expected to grow 21.6 percent; jobs requiring an associate degree are projected to increase by 32 percent; and those requiring a postsecondary vocational award will grow 24.1 percent. All but two of the 50 highest paying occupations will require a college degree. New jobs will increasingly require both general and occupation- specific skills, will be more demanding, will involve more teamwork and worker participation, and will be in occupations that allow people to think and be creative on the job. The need for more skills will in turn create an increased demand for adult education, the need for better workplace training for existing workers, and the need for retraining of older and dislocated workers.
The workforce is becoming increasingly diverse. In fact, by the year 2008, minority groups are expected to comprise a larger portion of the labor force. Asians and African Americans are expected to account for approximately 11.7 percent while Hispanics will increase their share of the labor force from 2.1 to 2.8 percent. These changes will lead to the need for corporate policy changes and the necessity for learning Spanish. They will particularly impact the service industry such as health care workers, educators, and public safety officials.
The first of the baby boomers also will begin to reach retirement age. This will heighten the existing labor shortage problem especially when considering the number of younger workers available to replace retirees is declining. It will, therefore, become increasingly important to keep older workers actively involved in the labor force, at least part-time.
Additionally, more individuals with disabilities are also taking part in the workforce due to advances in technology, the impact of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), greater participation in the education system by people with disabilities, and increased social acceptance.
Lastly, members of Generation Y will have as much of an influence upon society as the baby boomers. Members of Gen Y, defined as those born from 1977 through 1997, are entering the workforce and bringing their own values, such as total comfort with technology and a more global and tolerant outlook. They have very strong opinions about the ideal career path, aren’t as interested in climbing the corporate ladder as previous generations, and often begin their careers with the assumption that they will change jobs frequently.
All of these changes are now requiring employers to rethink their current recruiting and retention strategies to ensure they tap all available labor pools.
The nature of families is changing. The fading of the traditional American nuclear family consisting of a married, heterosexual couple and kids-with a working father and stay-at-home mother-has been catalogued by numerous studies. Today, reports from the Census Bureau indicate that married couples make up only one-half of the population, and married couples with children account for less than a quarter of U.S. households. And those married couples also present a more diverse population, bringing together couples with multiple marriages and children from different relationships. Meanwhile, the number of families headed by single mothers increased about 25 percent over the past decade, to almost 12.5 million, and the number of families headed by single fathers tripled since 1980, to almost 4 million. Demographers now predict that more than half of the youngsters born in the 1990s will spend at least part of their childhood in a single parent home.
Additionally, the number of primary caregivers working outside the home is greater than ever before. As a result, company policies regarding pay, fringe benefits, time off, pensions and other family-related issues may need to be modified to allow for job sharing, more flexible work hours, and employer-sponsored childcare.
Moreover, individuals are waiting longer to get married and, as a result, many couples are having children at older ages. This will affect employers in several ways. First, as couples trying to conceive become older, the odds increase that they will have reproductive problems requiring costly fertility treatments-procedures the employees will want their insurance to cover. In addition, new data from the Census Bureau suggests that older mothers-those from 30 to 44 years of age-may be more likely than younger women to leave the workforce after giving birth.
An economy that is increasingly based on information and service industries, wide access to technology, and a “get-it-done-yesterday” culture have blurred the lines between work and non-work for many workers. Mobile phones, personal digital assistants and laptop computers are ubiquitous, and high-speed Internet connections are rapidly becoming available at work, home and even coffee shops. The hyper-competitiveness of a global economy and slim profit margins have created a culture where managerial and professional workers are expected to at least be available to work at any time. At the same time, societal and demographic changes have increased the number of dual-earner families, and the pressure of work and family are raising stress levels and decreasing productivity. The blurring boundary between work and non-work that results from around-the-clock work will create new sets of challenges for employment policies and government regulations. More specifically, it will lead workers to demand more flexible and increasingly individualized employment relationships so that those who are expected to work regardless of time and location are treated equitably when it comes to compensation and benefits.
While cost containment of benefit programs will remain an issue for employers, employee benefit programs will need to undergo drastic changes to attract and retain workers. The aging workforce will be seeking better prescription coverage and long-term care benefits. In order to better accommodate shifting demographics, family design changes, and an evolving work culture, particular emphasis will now need to be placed on offering work/life benefits such as flextime, adoption assistance, telecommuting, and dependent care flexible spending accounts.
Technological innovation is continuously and pervasively altering the way in which work is performed. The U.S.‘s older workforce could experience difficulty in readily adapting to these developments. Consequently, the retraining of both older and dislocated workers will become vital for any company to succeed.
Changes in the industrial structure of the economy will play a major role in determining employment growth or decline in occupational groups. More than half a million new service producing jobs will be created by 2008, with the lion’s share of this growth in the major industry division known as services. This expansion will be fueled by gains in the health, business, education, and high-tech service industries. Changing demographics and the aging of the population will necessitate an increase in health care. Likewise, advances in the medical field, which continue to improve the life expectancy of many patients, will have hospitals looking to expand their staffs. Educational services will continue to benefit from the strength of the U.S. economy. The driving forces behind gains in this industry will be an increase in the number of adult students enrolling in colleges and universities. In the goods producing sector, construction is expected to continue its steady expansion while the manufacturing industry is expected to remain static.