The Employers' Challenge

Editorial


One of many challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic that will likely continue throughout this year will be the challenge of finding and keeping employees.

That was made abundantly clear last week, when the U.S. Labor Department reported that 4.5 million workers had quit or changed their jobs in November, the highest number in the history of the department’s monthly survey of job openings.

There are now about 1.5 jobs for every jobless worker. Compare that to the period before the pandemic, in early 2020, when there were about 2.4 unemployed workers for every job, Julia Pollak, economist at the jobs site ZipRecruiter, told The Washington Post.

“This is the tightest labor market ever,” she said. “These are not quits from the labor force but quits from lower-paying jobs to higher-paying jobs, from less prestigious jobs to better, more prestigious jobs, from less flexible jobs to more flexible jobs.”

The departures were greatest among restaurant and bar workers, retail workers, and arts and recreation workers. These were among the employees most affected by the pandemic. As Little Rock restaurateur Gio Bruno told Arkansas Business last year, “I think a lot of the people got out of the service industry so they wouldn’t have to have contact with other humans and they found good jobs that were safer for them.”

Obviously, however, in-person work won’t disappear. Restaurant and food service meals still need to be cooked and served. Buildings still need to be built. And no robot has yet been created that can deliver the care of a trained nurse.

Higher wages are one tool in the employer toolbox, and they have been deployed in many industries.

But above all, employers will have to be flexible. The ability to pandemic “pivot” will be just as valuable in 2022.