How did we get here? – What to do.

There is good news for the U.S. in that unemployment is steadily decreasing. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate edged lower to 3.8% in March 2024. This is welcoming for many deserving citizens, yet our challenge is the availability of skilled and unskilled workers to fill the growing number of job vacancies. Our labor market is in a crisis; employers and customers feel this firsthand. How often have you stood in long lines at retail stores or fast-food restaurants because the establishment is short-handed? How many weeks or months have you waited for a repair specialist to service your home or vehicle due to worker shortages? I could provide many more examples of labor shortages.

Employers have fewer and fewer qualified applicants to consider and hire. In February, the number of job openings in the U.S. was at 8.8 million; the number of unemployed people per job opening was 0.07. This means there was less than one person available for every job. More concerning, this figure assumes every available worker is qualified for any open position and is actively looking for a job. This is not a reasonable assumption. One fallout from the Covid pandemic is the new way workers look at work-life balance. Many employees hesitate to return to the routine 8-5, 40-hour work week. They found remote working conditions appealing and have been reluctant to accept or stay on jobs without them. While this has affected workers across a large spectrum, it appears to be especially true for Millennial workers; those who were born between 1980 and 1984. In her book Generations (2023), Jean Twenge, PhD, a noted authority on global generational data, reported the results of a 2021 poll of Millennials. When responding to inquiries about working conditions, they tended to question (55%) why workers should return to the office when productivity has been high while working remotely.

So, how did our economy get to this point? As far back as the 1980s, leading companies sounded the alarm that the baby boomers would soon be retiring, and new leaders needed to be groomed for the future. Baby boomers include those born between 1946 and 1964. Over 76 million babies were born during that period, impacting the U.S. at every stage of their lifespan.  They made up the largest workforce in American history during their mature years. Given this, it was wise of companies to build and maintain succession plans for leadership roles. But what about the masses of the workforce, skilled and unskilled employees? How did we prepare for the retirement of this large and important group? Why didn’t we recognize that the baby boomers themselves chose to have smaller families? This is where business leaders, academia, and our government leaders failed us.

Unlike those in European countries, the American educational system continued to send strong messages to students that a four-year college degree was the best future for them. Those who chose to attend trade schools were not celebrated as they should have been. Trade schools only became popular at the beginning of the 21st century. In 1999, just 9.6 million Americans enrolled in a trade school. By 2014, that number increased to 16 million, preparing future workers for many trade skills, from electricians to mechanics to machinists. Where did our government go wrong? They overlooked the critical importance of improving and streamlining our legal immigration system to attract and vet motivated immigrants early enough to fill the workforce gap bearing down on us. This has caused a workforce gap that will likely continue for years if not decades.

Employers need to deal with this existential crisis. Companies must look at the way they recruit and hire. This is the time to hire for attitude and train for skills. If you’ve read my previous newsletters and articles, this slogan will not be new to you. And is not new to E.A.S.I-Consult.  For over 20 years, we’ve developed and validated employer-specific pre-employment work attitude tests Under the flagship Work Styles Predictor® (WSP®). The WSP®, along with a willingness to train employees, has allowed our clients to expand their applicant pool significantly. This approach also promotes a successful work attitude, resulting in higher quality work and significantly less turnover. A win-win situation for the organization!

We must take a multi-prong approach to overcome our current labor pool crisis. Teachers should be encouraged to promote and reinforce the value of vocational training education; employers must rethink how they recruit and hire employees, focusing on work attitude and providing on-the-job- training. Employers must also address the demand for new work-life balance among employees. Finally, we must insist that our government representatives immediately begin to fast-line the recreation of our legal immigration system.


If you have a question regarding the hiring process, employment testing, interviewing, or other HR-related areas you would like Dr. Smith to address in future newsletters, please send your inquiry to: contactus@easiconsult.com

For over 25 years, E.A.S.I.-Consult® has been helping companies identify – and develop – the most successful leaders for their organization.  As a leading company in researching and identifying key capabilities necessary for any situations – including unpredictable leadership challenges – we assist organizations reach their full potential.

About the Author

David Smith, PhD, is the president and CEO of EASI•Consult®. EASI•Consult® works with Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, and mid-sized corporations to provide customized Talent Management solutions.  EASI•Consult’s specialties include leadership assessment, online pre-employment testing, survey research, competency modeling, leadership development, executive coaching, 360-degree feedback, online structured interviews, and EEO hiring compliance.  The company is a leader in the field of providing accurate information about people.