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The Forgotten and Disengaged: How to Find More Skilled Workers

office skilled workers
  • In 2018, the number of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) sexual harassment suits jumped more than 50%.
  • Sexual harassment charges filed with the EEOC increased by more than 12% year-over-year.
  • The EEOC recovered $70 million for employees alleging sexual harassment, up from $47.5 million last year.
  • The number of hits to the agency’s sexual harassment webpage also more than doubled in the past year.

We are in a new era. Some worry about false sexual harassment accusations while others are glad women are finally speaking up. We can argue about those issues all day, but we are missing the point. We’ll come back to this shortly.

In September 2018, our national unemployment rate dropped to 3.7 percent. That is a 30-year low and it’s expected to decrease even further. While a lower unemployment rate sounds great, it also creates challenges. Let’s just focus on one challenge – we have jobs, but not enough people.

Companies are adding jobs to compete and take advantage of a strong economy. However, these same companies are struggling to leverage today’s current growth opportunities. According to the 2018 Conference Board CEO Study, CEOs said the number one challenge they face today is the “failure to attract and retain” top talent.

If we break that challenge down into two parts, we are left with retaining our current talent and attracting new talent.

Retaining Our People…Stay…Please Stay!

Employee retention is always important. After all, we want to keep our best people and limit turnover cost. However, in today’s economy, retention is paramount because replacing people is increasingly difficult, and that trend is only expected to continue. A recent survey by SHRM and CareerJournal indicated that 56% of HR professionals expect turnover to rise.

Every organization needs a plan to keep their best talent. Here are a few ideas to help you do just that:

1. Focus on your employees’ well being. During tumultuous times your associates can easily become stressed. Burnout becomes an issue, causing them to leave. This is a time to reduce distractions, set clear goals, and simplify your processes and structure. Most importantly, it is a time to prioritize. Everything cannot be equally important. In order to say “yes” to something and truly focus on it, you must be able to say no to other things. The best leaders and organizations focus on what is most important.

Beyond focus, efficiency, and prioritization, we need to help our employees cope with stress and anxiety. According to the American Institute of Stress, 69% of employees reported that work was a significant stress impacting their personal lives. American workers now have a choice of jobs, and many will choose their health in lieu of a prestigious but stressful role. Providing a welcoming environment, stress relievers, training on wellbeing, and wellness programs will continue to be key.

2. According to SHRM and CareerJournal, 53% of employees state they would leave their current jobs to seek better compensation. Make sure your compensation approach is competitive, transparent, and fits your organization’s culture.

3. Employee engagement is more important than ever. In the SHRM and CareerJournal Survey, 57% of employees stated they would leave their current jobs because they needed a new experience and were dissatisfied with career development opportunities. Employee development is fast becoming the number one issue when it comes to employee engagement. Take employee engagement seriously and make sure you are meeting the expected development needs of your team.

We must attract new employees!

Now is the time to get your recruiting house in order. Most companies are not even hiring to fill new jobs; they’re too busy trying to backfill positions. We have entered a hiring crisis and it’s not just because of job creation. It is due largely to turnover. US employers hired 5.6 million people in January of 2018, but that is because 5.4 million people changed jobs during that same period.

Employers have complained they have trouble finding people to take positions paying $75,000 with full benefits. What should you do? Get creative. Open up your recruiting pool. Consider women who took off time to raise children who want to transition back into the workforce.

The Forgotten Workforce

Forty-three percent of highly skilled working women leave the workforce to raise children. And here’s the interesting part – the majority of those talented women want to return to work. However, they face challenges. Think about it. If you’ve been out of the workforce, jumping back in can be kind of scary. All sorts of questions go through one’s head:

  • Will I be accepted?
  • Am I still relevant?
  • Am I an attractive candidate?
  • Will my age be a factor?
  • What skills do I bring to the table?
  • Will I be treated fairly?
  • How do I talk about my absence from the corporate world?
  • What am I passionate about? What do I want to do now?
  • How do I recreate myself?

And there are many more. The fact is these women pick up many skills from other life experiences along the way. They are efficient, understand time management, and have resilience embedded in their DNA. Many of these women still work, but in their children’s schools as volunteers, on boards, with charity organizations, and more. The creativity and organizational skills to accomplish what they do is as impressive, or more so, than what can be accomplished in the corporate world with big budgets and a variety of resources.

Companies would do well to recruit, on-board and develop this forgotten workforce. It may take an investment and some creativity since some of these talented people have not worked in an office setting consistently in 15-18 years. Consider creating a program to help women reboot their career, where your company can help ease women back into the work environment, provide career placement services, help them identify their value and how to share it in a corporate setting.

So how is the problem of sexual harassment and discrimination relevant to the “forgotten workforce”? How do employers expect to attract and retain women, especially women reentering the workforce, with this cloud hovering over corporate America? What woman would feel comfortable transitioning back to the workforce when they know women are paid less than their male counterparts, and when there have been highly publicized lawsuits regarding sexual harassment?

Now is a good time to make sure your organization is prepared to treat and pay women as equals. It’s the right thing to do. But there is an even larger incentive. There are 4.6 million women in the civilian labor force, which means there are almost two million women sitting on the sidelines ready to come back to work.

How many of your jobs would these women fill?

Brad Federman is the Memphis-based COO of F&H Solutions Group, a national consulting firm specializing in employee engagement, human resources and labor relations matters. 


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