For years, manufacturers have had an increasingly difficult time finding, attracting, and retaining skilled laborers. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, these concerns have become even more pressing. A recent Reuters article notes that while the manufacturing industry continues to bounce back from pandemic uncertainties and demand slowdowns, potential growth is being limited by a continued labor shortage despite a record number of job openings.

This labor shortage is worsening an already fractured supply chain, as the shipping and warehousing industry has been hit particularly hard by the ‘Great Resignation’, which has seen a record number of workers leave their jobs in the midst of the pandemic. In a recent survey by the US Chamber of Commerce, over 90% of state and local chambers identify labor shortages as a factor limiting economic growth.

But in the face of so much economic uncertainty, what can be done to ease these concerns?

Retain current employees

Retaining existing employees is more efficient and cost effective than hiring new employees. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) estimates the average cost to replace an employee at up to 6-9 months of their salary in recruiting and training costs, which can cost the overall U.S. economy over a trillion dollars per year. Understanding why employees leave, and perhaps even more importantly why they stay, can be vital for an organization to understand where their strengths are, and where any shortfalls may lie.

Attracting more, and different kinds, of workers

A potential solution to the mismatch between available positions and finding workers willing and able to fulfill them might lie in expanding a company’s understanding of what is considered as the available pool of workers. One creative strategy noted by Brooke Sutherland in a recent Bloomberg article highlights the benefits of broadening such definitions of available workers. This can include revamping the company’s public image to appeal more widely to a younger audience base, expanding the use of government assisted training programs to help promote investment in a workforce, and working to move past the social stigma surrounding hiring certain individuals such as those with a previous criminal record.

Outsourcing tasks, or even entire positions

If the pandemic has shown us nothing else, as we ‘sheltered-in-place’ throughout much of 2020 and beyond, companies have been able to see how many jobs are able to be performed from home – a home that can be located anywhere with a stable internet connection. Recruitment efforts for many increasingly computer dependent positions, particularly as more and more companies are able to operate in cloud-based environments, are no longer required to be tied to a company’s physical location. Through utilizing professional employer organizations (PEO’s), recruitment efforts can be expanded internationally based on the needs of a business, regardless of where potential candidates may be located. While it is true that it is certainly easier to outsource some jobs more than others, where efficiencies can be gained, expanding these perspectives can offer invaluable insights. Particularly where professional services are concerned, many firms offer a sliding scale of support from part time assistance with data entry or customer collections and vendor payments, to fully outsourced controller services and other types of executive management assistance.

Building a strong workforce goes a long way

In these unprecedented times, there has never been a better opportunity for unique and vast changes to occur. With so much uncertainty surrounding daily life, it can feel like too big of a risk to enter any additional unknowns into the equation, but that is exactly why those risks must be taken. A company’s workforce can be the greatest reason behind its success or its largest liability leading to its failure. The difference between the two lies in a willingness to think outside the box, open new doors, and redefine what a modern-day workforce may entail.

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