Record Job Openings Persist – What’s Next?
The August 9, 2021 Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) press release articulated what many reading this blog already know through experience. The number of job openings increased to a record 10.1 million as of the end of June, which is 590,000 more than the end of May, the previous record. The “quit rate” was 2.7 percent in June, which is also record breaking. Workers have choices and they know it. Competition is increasing for what seems to be a very limited pool of candidates.
These numbers are daunting for an economy trying hard to recover from a disastrous year and we know that many ESA member businesses feel the impact.
Prior to COVID, there were over 7.1 million job openings in a booming economy. Today, the numbers are even higher (much higher), but other differences make the circumstances for high job openings different on top of the numbers. Pre-COVID, the primary issue was skill and location mismatches. States were and continue to act on this issue with legislation that opens up licensing reciprocity. But the problem today extends beyond the skills gap. Prolonged unemployment and childcare benefits, fear of COVID, fear of the “delta variant”, public mask mandates, and other reasons have contributed to the unprecedented level of job openings.
ESA is working collaboratively with the National Skills Coalition (NSC) and Business Leaders United (BLU) to drive attention to policy makers about the need for concerted workforce development policies at the state and federal level. In November 2019, we participated in a hill walk with BLU and I was honored to meet with a Special Assistant to the President in the Domestic Policy Council to discuss workforce development. This was obviously pre-COVID and highlighted the strong sense of concern we have for the workforce development issue. Today, it is even more pronounced for businesses across all sectors in the economy.
On August 30, 2021 ESA joined with dozens of trade organizations and businesses in a letter to Congressional leaders asking for their support and investment in workforce development. Specifically, we are asking Congress to:
- Provide sufficient resources to support the demand for sector-based workforce training and reskilling programs that help bridge skills mismatch, including workers’ digital skill needs, while promoting more equitable economic mobility,
- Expand workforce training capacity by providing tax incentives for training programs led by industry, educators, and non-profit organizations and embracing flexible short-term and on-line training in key digital and emerging, in-demand skills, and
- Drive informed training by growing real-time labor force data identifying economywide trends focused on emerging roles and the skills needed for in-demand jobs and high demand sectors and measure the equitable impact of public investments.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has launched a similar initiative titled “The America Works Agenda”. We will continue our collaboration with NSC, BLU, the Chamber and any other coalition that will help narrow the skills gap and keep the economy (and ESA member businesses) moving in a positive direction. Stay tuned as we usher these policy requests along.