The Workforce Challenge

September 13, 2023 | Written by: Morgan

Is it population, mindset, or skills? The workforce challenge is mentioned in every conversation I’ve had with Lee County businesses. “We are hiring” is on every website and window. It is not unique to Lee County, as overall U.S. employers are looking to fill existing and new positions while facing a labor gap that some didn’t anticipate. Economists expected a decline in job vacancies and have been surprised at the recent surge.

It is fair to say there are compounding reasons the current workforce challenge exists. We all have theories and there are straight facts as well. The population in the US has been on a consistent decline. In 1958 the fertility rate was 3.6 children per woman and the number has continued to decline since that peak, reaching 1.8 today. So, we are not supplying our own demand for labor as job openings rise. The mention of 1958 contributes to another piece of the challenge. This is where “Baby Boomers” hit the scene (1946-1964). This peak in population may have set us up. We were booming! Consumer needs increased and people to fill jobs became surplus as boomer adults entered the workforce blazing the productivity trail. Now as this vibrant generation looks to retirement, their exit from the workforce is being felt and it’s painful. You would hope that we saw that coming. We have steadily fallen in fertility rates since the “boom”, and we all know every 65+ aspires to retire. Who is there to replace the Boomers? Some predicted that the pandemic and quarantine would have created the next baby boom, but it appears we did indeed stay “6 ft apart”. So, you could blame the “Greatest Generation” for inflating the population but who would, they were great.

The Greatest Generation parented the most Boomers. They raised families to believe in hard work. They did what they had to, supporting large households, and making ends meet. They had survival skills and lived through the Great Depression. Many served in war and a very patriotic generation was created. As the Boomers grew, they reflected the mindset of their parents. They earned record levels of income and in the 80’s invented entirely new industries and corporations from scratch. But the Boomers parenting style shifted from what they experienced. They were spenders focused on the “best” for their kids and made college a priority. They focused more on how their kids felt growing up. Today many discussions on workforce challenges focus on a lack of soft skills. Soft skills being teamwork, communication, initiative, time management, adaptability… In studies, today’s workforce values work-life balance more than any previous generation. Fascinating. Take it only as an opinion but did this adjustment in parental priority limit newer generation’s ability to develop valuable communication and team-oriented skills?

Recent studies show that when it comes to trade skills and manufacturing jobs, 47% of youth say the jobs seem too physically tough and they would prefer other options. They think these jobs are dirty, unsafe and lack good pay. Nearly 30% said they don’t even understand what the jobs are. Maybe the skill gaps close by showing. “Show and Tell” was the best part of school, we need more of it. Youth exposure to valuable careers can return the expectations, value and appreciation of these skills.

Crystal Gaddy

Business Retention & Expansion Manager

cgaddy@growsanfordnc.com