Workforce shortage: Acceptance is the first step

John Ha
Five Stages of Grief
  1. Denial: “This isn’t happening.”
    – Yes it is.

  2. Bargaining: “Just let me last through my own retirement.” – Nice try.

  3. Anger: “I hate my job.” – Let it all out.

  4. Despair: “We’re doomed.”
    – It’s OK. It’s not that bad.

  5. Acceptance: “OK, what are our options?” – There you go!

Baby Boomers are going to retire soon. There won’t be enough skilled labor to fill all the jobs. Employers aren’t prepared to handle the labor shortage. It goes on and on. So, is this workforce shortage thing for real? Well, YES!

The numbers don’t lie. By 2012, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) estimates there will be 165 million jobs and only 162 million people available in the workforce. That doesn’t sound too bad until you consider that 19 percent (30 million) of those available workers will be age 55 and older (see Chart 1).

Further, the Baby Boomers will hit the average retirement age of 62 beginning in 2008, and there is a real concern of skill deficiency. The bottom line is no industry will be immune to the workforce shortage issue, including the maintenance portion of the manufacturing industry, which, according to the DOL, is expected to grow 10 to 20 percent in total jobs per year.

OK, you’ve probably heard it all before. The question is: What are you doing about it?

I know this is an enormous challenge, but the first step is acceptance. Move through the “five stages of grief” (see the insert box) as quick as you can and accept the fact this isn’t going away. Acceptance is critical, because if you want to survive, you must have open eyes and be prepared to make serious commitments. Sadly, I think too many companies are in denial and either underestimate the magnitude of the workforce shortage or ignore it altogether. For these firms, disaster awaits.

For those of you who have accepted the challenge, your primary focus should be on employee retention. There is nothing more costly to a company than losing a critical employee. I’m not suggesting that you throw money around to retain critical employees through bonuses or matching an outside offer. Successful retention is more strategic and has several key components. These components aren’t difficult to identify. Just start with the employee’s point of view. When describing an ideal employer, the top three factors given by employees (aside from location) are consistent:

  • Challenging and enjoyable work.

  • Opportunities for growth and development.

  • Corporate values similar to personal values.

Chart 1. Percent of Labor Force by Age Group, 2002 and Projected 2012

Unfortunately, not everyone finds what they were looking for once they start work. But, if these are the reasons that motivate an individual to accept a position, wouldn’t it stand to reason that these same factors would motivate them to stay? I recently spoke to a reliability engineer who enjoys his work, is well compensated, but hasn’t had a vacation day in two years. Is it a surprise that he is looking for a new opportunity? What is your company doing to develop people and provide meaningful, challenging work within an organizational culture that aligns with their personal values and goals?

Finally, focus on new talent acquisition. I’m not referring to traditional headhunting. I’m referring to identifying and attracting talent from high schools, trade schools, community colleges and four-year institutions – candidates who have the foundational skills and education to learn quickly.

I understand that you need to find experienced professionals in certain situations, but a workforce strategy based on headhunting is a recipe for failure during times of workforce shortages. Bidding wars, escalated salaries and high turnover are the results.

What is your company doing to attract and develop the kind of talent you need to fill the vacancies we all know are coming? Moreover, what are you doing to attract these talented people to the field of maintenance and reliability? Are you proactively planning for the expected shortage by recruiting and developing your talent? Or, will you participate in the “war for talent”? You have a choice. Wait, and the choice will be made for you.

John Ha is the president of Reliability Careers, a provider of workforce solutions for the reliability and maintenance industry. This business not only provides traditional staffing services for companies but is dedicated to help customers better understand and identify their needs, produce talent through on-the-job and apprentice programs, and provide ongoing training requirements to keep the workforce on top of its game. For individual career seekers, the firm finds top-flight career opportunities in the reliability and maintenance field. Contact John at 918-388-2438 or e-mail info@reliabilitycareers.com.


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