Where Are the Workers?

by | Nov 22, 2021

New multi-part analysis to test assumptions and explore opportunities to address the talent shortage, and answer the question everyone’s asking.

“Covid-19 Pushed Many Americans to Retire. The Economy Needs Them Back.”
– WSJ 10/31/21

“‘Childcare deserts’ are a secret driver of the labor shortage — and half of Americans live in one.”
– Business Insider 11/15/21

“Work Is So Bad That People Are Quitting in Droves. We Should See That as a Good Thing.”
– Mother Jones 10/29/21

By Bethia Burke

There were more than 10 million job openings in September, and 4.4 million quits in the same month—an all-time record. News headlines underscore a growing crisis among businesses: A severe shortage of talent for current and future positions. In no shortage? Hypotheses about the driving factors.

Could it be lingering uncertainty caused by COVID-19? Health fears? A societal sea change in how people approach work? The long-predicted “silver tsunami?” Lack of access to childcare? Or individuals acting in economic self-interest?

Discussions about solving economic challenges often focus on what businesses want and need. Overcoming this crisis—whether it’s a true shortage, a mismatch, or something else—will require an understanding of what workers want and need. To that end, we at the Fund for Our Economic Future are working with Team NEO, ConxusNEO, PolicyBridge, and Summit & Medina Workforce Area Council of Governments, with additional support from the Kresge Foundation, to understand the question on everyone’s mind: Where are the workers?

Three key analyses will inform a clearer picture of Northeast Ohio’s worker shortage:

  • A national scan of existing research and analysis to understand what is known, where there are gaps in information, and what hypotheses merit deeper exploration;
  • An employer survey and series of roundtable discussions with Northeast Ohio businesses across various sectors to take stock of the hiring challenges they’re facing and the solutions they’ve implemented or have considered testing; and
  • A regional worker survey and series of focus groups with working-age adults across the employment spectrum to understand the factors influencing their ability to and decisions around whether to engage in the workforce, and what they want and need in order to access employment.

The above components will inform a full report with clear implications and actionable steps employers, workforce agencies and other stakeholders can take.

This information is critical for the future success of our region. We know employers, workforce agencies, policymakers, and others needed answers yesterday, so we won’t be waiting for the ink to dry on the final report to share key insights and answer questions. Beginning next week, we’ll start sharing findings through blog posts, social media and other engagement tactics and ask for your input as we test hypotheses and deepen our understanding of what’s happening.

We hope you’ll join us for real-time discoveries in the quest to understand the worker shortage: Subscribe to get regular updates in your inbox and join the conversation on social media using the hashtag #wherearetheworkers.

Stay tuned next for the first dispatch: Anecdotes and Evidence—A National Scan of Literature on the Worker Shortage.