Talent Shortage and What We Learned From History That Will Help Today

Author: Stephanie L. Leffler 09/06/2021

Labor Day is a celebration of social and economic achievements of American Workers. This blog is a bit about history and how employers can learn from it to address the labor shortage today.


North American labor unions began in the late 1790’s with the original 13 colonies (Who can name any of the 13 colonies without Google?). Today the US is in a crisis for employee talent. According to Fox news (2021), 50 percent of the 10 million jobs remain unfilled. This impacts both large and small employers. Employers are cutting hours and workers are just not showing up for interviews. Recruitment costs are skyrocketing while the result is a minimal number of applicants. Historically, capitalists dealt with a labor shortfall by enslaving indigenous people. In 1935 the balance of power shifted to employees when the genesis of unemployment insurance as part of the 1935 Social Security Act (Scholastic, n.d.). With a move that seems counterintuitive, business strove for low unemployment to shift power back to them. What is strange about today’s labor shortage is that the unemployment and inflation rates are low. Many people have stopped looking for work and couch surfing or living with their aging parents. We must stop enabling these “kiddos”. Until the situation changes for people work or starve, we have to come up with other solutions.


To combat the lack of talent, employers must incentivize people to work while maintaining their current staff. Bonus and commission structures are helpful to the competitive workers but not as much of a motivator for others who may prefer a flexible schedule or more time off. Customizing benefit packages while avoiding any perceived bias is key to attracting and maintaining talent.

Utilizing a third-party consultant has advantages. For instance, a recruiter can sway the

cynical applicant by educating them about benefits of working for your company from someone who is not involved in the day to day. I utilize the employer videos and employee testimonials to paint a picture of what the applicant can expect at the workplace. I place the employers’ non-negotiables up front in the process to avoid any unclear expectations. A hot topic is the employer’s stance on COVID and mandating vaccinations. From the jump, the recruiter must be on the same page with their client. I like that one client asked staff members what they thought about the interview questions and the recruiting ad before it was placed. Employers need to plan further ahead with staffing changes and perhaps encourage or even incentivize staff to provide longer notices. Be careful that you do not lock yourself into a payment contract or plan to pay the cost of a contract buyout.


I say leverage the labor shortage to your advantage and streamline as many processes as possible. Seek out applicants with transferable skillsets and provide your employees with a creative outlet by ferreting out what they really enjoy about their work. The tricky part is finding time as a small business owner to craft surveys or conduct employee interviews. This is the time to partner with the “competition” to combine resources and expand product services. For example, I am working with another HR Consulting firm to share expensive compliance tools that keep client risk low.


The labor shortage is here for a while, and it provides new opportunities that we may not be comfortable with but are necessary to ensure your legacy.


Did you know that GourmetHR has the capacity to serve all 50 states for any labor law or other compliance needs? Give me a call to strategize about any of your concerns keeping you up at night.

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