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Here’s how pandemic disruptions are causing seismic shifts in labor market

Originally published on October 27, 2021 by the Upstate Business Journal

featuring Walter Sabrin, senior vice president of recruitment at Vensure Employer Services/QBS

The national labor market has gone wonky.  The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 8.9 million unemployed workers in August and 10.9 million job openings. The reasons for the disparity are complicated, but many seem tied to the ongoing disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The growing consensus among labor experts is that there are a number of reasons people are reluctant to reenter the labor market or to return to jobs they held prior to the global health crisis.

According to Walter Sabrin, senior vice president for recruitment at Quality Business Solutions Inc. based in Travelers Rest, a number of factors are driving people’s decisions to work or remain on the sidelines including the Delta variant and ongoing uncertainty surrounding the pandemic.

“In my opinion, it’s sort of the perfect storm in finding top talent,” Sabrin says. As a result, companies have vacancies they can’t fill.

Bob Sinclair, professor of industrial/organizational psychology at Clemson University, says the uncertainty is prompting a number of workers to reevaluate their priorities. This set of calculations is playing out now with remote work.

Sinclair says the pandemic demonstrated many jobs across multiple sectors could be done remotely. After the widespread availability of vaccines earlier this year, many employers began advocating for a return to the office.

But many remote workers want the option to remain remote, and Sinclair says many employers may find it difficult to convince those workers to return to their cubicles and offices.

“I think management is certainly going to be faced with that,” he says.

Sabrin says there’s also a generational shift at play. Younger workers want more options in how they work, and management teams who try the same approaches that worked with previous generations are finding it hard to fill open positions with those younger workers.

“I equate this with the expression that if you do the same thing over and over but expect different results — that’s insanity,” Sabrin says.

On the other hand, companies that are becoming creative and responsive in adapting to employee demands will find it easier to recruit and retain top talent, Sabrin says.

“I think if we’re all working on improving corporate culture — I think that’s a win-win,” he says. “There is potential for us to come out of the other side better than ever.”

Sinclair adds that another issue causing reluctance to return to work, especially in public service sectors like restaurants, hospitality and retail, is the toxic political and social environment affecting much of the nation. He cites news reports of flight attendants and retail workers getting into altercations with members of the public over masking requirements as a reason many workers are leaving those fields.

Sinclair says although evidence for some of the possible motivations for workers is only anecdotal at this stage, those reasons are being reported across a variety of economic sectors and point to real challenges in filling job openings.

Sabrin says all of these challenges make this one of the most difficult recruiting environments he’s faced in more than 20 years in the field. Success depends not only on getting employees in the door but in the right position.

“We’ve got to get you on the bus,” he says. “But we have to get you in the right seat on the bus. Otherwise you’re going to get off at the next stop.”

There are several key challenges in meeting the labor shortage including:

  • Continued uncertainty about workplace safety due to the ongoing pandemic
  • Continued uncertainty about COVID-19 impacts on education and childcare options
  • Whether remote work will remain an option post pandemic
  • How much the contentious political and social environment will intrude in the workplace
  • How companies will adapt to generational shifts among workers and how responsive their management culture will be to those shifts