November 12, 2021
By Bud Foster
TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) – August set a record when 4.3 million American workers quit their jobs.
And September 2021 set a record when 4.4 million American workers quit their jobs.
As the country eases out of the coronavirus pandemic and the economy improves, it would seem that workers would be flocking back to work. But it’s not working out that way.
“I directly have been hiring for this company for 15 years and I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Nicole Koch, co-owner of Technicians for Sustainability, a small Tucson solar business with 64 employees. “We have an industry that tends to be pretty appealing so we were shocked to find ourselves in the same boat as the rest of the country.”
That boat is the difficulty of finding not just qualified workers but workers of any kind. It’s happening coast to coast and industry to industry.
And it’s not finding new workers, or retaining those already on payroll.
“We’ve raised our wages across the board more than once in the past year,” Koch says.
But it takes more than pay to keep a work force happy.
“My staff has let me know that something they really want is a work life balance,” she said. “Even though many of us love what we do, we also love other parts of how we spend our lives.”
That’s forced the company to talk to their employees, many of whom are co-owners of the company as well, to determine what they want.
“We’ve seen more and more staff want to talk about flexible time, they want to talk about creative hours and they want to talk about condensed weeks,” she said. “They have options.”
There’s no doubt, with 10.4 million job openings, it’s a worker’s market right now.
“Nobody has ever seen the problem that we have today with the labor shortage,” said Frank Knapp, the President and CEO of the Small Business Chamber of Commerce in South Carolina. “And a warning, if somebody says they know the answer and they know the singular reason, don’t listen to them.”
Knapp says there’s a “hodge-podge of reasons” as to why we’re in this situation.
But he adds near the top of the list is so many women have left the work force for a variety of reasons and until, or if, they come back into the labor market, it will be difficult to reverse the trend.
“That’s mothers, women with kids, they have not come back in,” he said. “And we need to do something about that.”
For so many of those mothers, a lack of affordable child care is a core reason, but so is a fear of COVID-19 and the health of the family, while some are still dealing with remote learning for their kids.
Until they come back, the market is just reshuffling he believes.
“They’re shuffling those who are already in the job market,” he said. “So if you raise your pay, you get a new person that probably came from somebody else and now they have to look for new people.”
There are other reasons as well. The service industry, which has relied on immigration for new workers, doesn’t have those workers now in part because of policy and in part because of COVID-19.
Others may be retraining for a better job while others have taken government stimulus checks to live on and will drift back later.
Many 55 and older have left the labor market and will never return.
“I don’t think it’s going to go back to the way it was before,” Koch said. “I think people now more than ever want to be seen as whole people and they want their lives to be seen as equally important, not just their work.”