The mysterious case of the missing workers

12 reasons why you can't find people right now

It’s summer! After a long, cold winter that lasted well into May, the weather finally turned and I’ve been enjoying the sun. Things are looking up.

For the labor market as well - many countries record the highest level of open vacancies ever. Business owners are sounding the alarm bell because they can’t find enough people to fill them.

Which begs the question: where are the workers? We saw unprecedented levels of unemployment during the pandemic, and people should be coming back to work. Especially in countries where vaccination programs are well under way and the economy is re-opening. Why aren’t they? What’s keeping them back?

It’s a question that many are trying to answer. Some give thoughtful insights, and others rely on their gut and say the first thing that comes to mind. I watched an interviewer ask Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan, why there are so many job openings. He answered: "People actually have a lot of money, and they don't particularly feel like going back to work."

In other words, because people receive benefits, they see no reason to apply to these vacancies. Which also implies that once you stop these benefits, they will come back and the labor shortage disappears.

One problem though: the record number of vacancies is a global phenomenon. Almost every country where the pandemic is relatively under control experiences a workforce shortage. And these countries have different unemployment and benefit systems.

So what’s really happening? I decided to look into the state of the workforce and see if I could find data to explain these labor shortages. And I really didn’t have to look very hard to find data pointing to a number of very reasonable explanations.

Keep in mind that we were headed towards a skills shortage before the pandemic - I even wrote a newsletter on that topic. In light of that, it is more important than ever to deeply understand your workforce: who’s in it, what are their skills and capabilities, what do they cost? Where can you find them? How can you make sure they choose you instead of your competition?

Armed with this data, you can forecast, run scenarios, make predictions, in short, prepare your company in the best possible way. So that’s why I include an overview of workforce analytics solutions to support this month’s topic.

Because summer holidays are here and I’m taking some time off, next month’s newsletter will revisit some highlights of last year. I’m back in August with fresh content on blockchain.

Wishing you a warm and enjoyable summer,


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Insights & Ideas on Workforce Strategy

In my HRTechFest Connect keynote I introduce you to your 2025 Employee and explain why Talent Marketplaces will play a vital role in every future workforce strategy. If you have not evaluated these marketplaces, take a look to understand what they do, and how your workforce strategy can benefit from them.

A Harvard survey found that 90% of the C-suite viewed marketplaces for premium talent as important to future competitive advantage. Business leaders are fully aware of the talent challenges and know that CHROs can’t solve these issues without exploring new avenues.

Chief Executive and SHRM published a new survey that shows a large discrepancy between the CEO and CHRO on the talent topic - which is a problem in itself:

55% of CEOs would like more focus on talent availability and recruiting, while only 28% of CHROs think that’s necessary.

It reveals a misunderstanding between the CEO and CHRO, and if it’s not solved, it might jeopardize the company future. The article suggests some actions on how to bridge this gap.

The Sunny Days For Wages and Workers Won’t Last. Timothy Noah dives into the "Great American Labor Shortage" where wages and job openings are up. He reminds us that nothing about the pandemic is normal, the conditions that created the labor shortage are temporary, and explains why economic recovery will taper off.

Don’t forget…

The HR Systems Survey is live - it’s one of my favorite annual reports. Stacey Harris and team have just released the 24th survey - kind of amazing to think how much HR Tech data they have collected over the years. If you participate in the survey, you’ll get a free copy of this insightful report. The survey is open until July 15. Don’t miss out!

What’s next?

Tim Hughes invited me to #TimTalk to talk about the future of jobs. We exchanged views on the state of jobs and the labor market, the role of technology to support work, how work and location are now 2 separate things and the choices people will make when looking at the role of jobs in their lives.

Are you demanding that employees come back to the office? A culture war is brewing between CEO’s, who like to be in control, and workers who don’t want to give up their new-found flexibility. Beware of the “only a few days” mantra warns Ed Zitron in The Upcoming Remote Company Culture War.

Firms now realize that employees can work productively wherever and whenever they choose. Lynda Gratton tells us how to get it right: Any time anywhere: what does hybrid mean for your business? Read this article when you need some inspiration on what to do next.

Findem shared their brand new 2021 Recruitment Tech survey:

Building a skilled pipeline is a highly complex undertaking in any situation, but particularly in today’s competitive landscape where often the best and most loyal talent are passive candidates who aren’t actively searching for jobs,” said Findem CEO Hari Kolam.

And Oxford researchers rated 11 of the UK’s most popular digital labor platforms according to how fairly they treat workers. They score companies on standards such as pay, conditions, management and representation. Not surprisingly, the study found that most companies fail to ensure the minimum standards of fair work – such as allowing workers to earn below the national minimum wage.

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See you next month!

Do you have comments, questions, tips, links for the next issue? Send me a note or schedule a chat.

Written by Anita Lettink. I write about workplace innovation and the future of work. I run HRTechRadar to showcase emerging companies. I’m also a strategic advisor & analyst. You can connect with me on Linkedin or Twitter.