Unemployment statistics are officially hovering at “full employment” — a good sign for the economy, but a continued frustration for those still struggling to fill jobs.
In fact, it may feel like bitter irony. A key argument during the election revolved around promises to cultivate jobs in the U.S., but many companies already had job openings for hundreds of positions. The problem: No one was skilled enough to take them.
To approach this new talent paradigm, employers will need to overcome their fear of change and move beyond traditional workforce sources. Employees with disabilities, older employees and employees that require more flexibility around their commitments at home all may be able to offer something to a company in need of talent — if that company is willing to work with them.
To truly overcome the talent shortage, employers may need to reconsider their hiring systems as well as how work is done if they want to find success.
Employees on SSDI: A case study
Employers can begin this process by looking at employees they once had on the payroll, including those who had to move to Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). For many HR managers, the thought of having to deal with the Social Security Administration may provoke a headache. But programs are emerging to both support employees with disabilities and provide a pathway to bring them back to work.
John Yent, director of vocational services and benefits advisor at Allsup, is one of the forces behind the company’s latest program, called “empower.” Through empower, employees and employers work together before the employee leaves the workplace to create an avenue for them to eventually return.
Long-term disability policies can be expensive, and the employees who have to take leave are usually highly skilled. Employers have an opportunity here, Yent said.
“The real incentive is for employers to realize they have a person who may be going on disability and if there is any shot at all of this person eventually returning to work, you want that employee to be a part of a program that does it,” he said.
In essence: It’s in an employer’s interest to create systems that keep employees around.
Often, if an employee applies for SSDI, many employers assume their relationship with that worker is over, Yent said. But early intervention can ensure those workers have a path to healing and a way to return once they are ready.
“The folks who have disabilities want to go back to work,” he added. “People who apply for SSDI wanted to stay working. The chance to do that, they feel, is mostly out of their hands.”
If [employers] provide opportunity and flexibility, they can drop the preconceived notions and select for potential.
Employers don’t have to go it alone. Third-party groups like Allsup can provide professional case managers that understand disability and the kinds of accommodations needed and have the technical expertise such management requires. Americans with Disabilities Act compliance remains an important part of the process — and, of course, ROI needs to be managed appropriately.
“A majority of HR departments want to do right by their workforce,” Yent said. “This can help.”
Programs like empower reveal the pernicious power of preconceived notions and how they work against both employers and employees. Employers may look askance at an applicant who has been on SSDI for a long time or a caregiver who has been out of the office for years or an older worker that wants to return. But companies that choose to listen to those potential employees will ultimately reap the benefits.
“If [employers] provide opportunity and flexibility, they can drop the preconceived notions and select for potential,” Kate Donovan, SVP of ManpowerGroup, said — but that may mean changing how the work is done in the first place.
Changing the way work is structured: Defining flexibility
In an attempt to ease the ever upward creep of healthcare plan costs, many employers opted for total plan design changes, including a shift to high-deductible healthcare plans and improved focus on employee shopping skills.
Employers need to apply the same willingness to transform structure to the workplace generally, said Leslie Caputo, head of enterprise strategy at Werk, an online job platform focused on flexible work — especially as employers scramble to combat the skills gap.
“I think a lot of people are worried about this,” Caputo said of the talent gap, “and I think what is so interesting about that is that a lot of time, people look at other solutions but very rarely look at how work is structured itself.”
Pipelines are in place for a few worker populations. ManpowerGroup has released reports on employers integrating “Boomerang” workers into their workforce, while Werk was originally founded by two women hoping to give working mothers a way to balance work and life. But the changes may need to be broader than that.
“For employers, what we are seeing more is that they are changing work models to accommodate different sources of talent,” Donovan said. A lot of these solutions come back to flexibility and how flexibility changes the ways employers measure success and productivity.
For starters, employees want it. Around 40% of all candidates (regardless of gender or background) say that flexibility is one of the top three reasons they choose to go to an employer, Donovan said. But for those who want to seriously offer flexibility as a benefit, defining what flexibility actually is can trouble HR managers of all backgrounds.
In response, Werk created the “flexiverse”, a framework that explains and defines different forms of work flexibility. Currently, the “flexiverse” defines six different forms of flexibility, some of which may be familiar to employers:
Remote work: An employee doesn’t work in the office at all.
DeskPlus: Employees can opt to work outside the office, usually on specifically defined days.
TravelLite: These jobs require less than 10% travel days annually, instead leveraging remote work tech when travel might have been previously required.
TimeShift: Workers aren’t required to work 9 to 5, and can instead create a schedule that is productive for them. For example, a worker with children may work 10 a.m.-3 p.m., take a break, and take a second shift in the evening from 8 p.m.-10 p.m. once the kids are asleep.
MicroAgility: More commonly known as “ad hoc” flexibility, employers that need to adjust when they are in the office, be it for appointments or caregiving, can do so.
Part-time: Werk counts part-time work as a form of flexible work, particularly appealing to those who may want to remain in the workforce but have other obligations at home or elsewhere.
Many companies offer one of those forms of flexibility, but don’t recognize that they are doing so — or how it could open up their talent pools.
“You talk to companies and they realize they are doing that, but are they strategically marketing that? And a lot of times they aren’t,” Caputo said.
Turning to total talent management
More employers are indeed tailoring their work models to accommodate different channels of talent. Employee development — essentially using resources already at the company — is increasingly a part of this. Around 50% of employers are training their people for jobs within the company, Donovan said.
But some 36% of employers are also looking for candidates specifically outside the “traditional pool,” or those available for 9 to 5 employment, Donovan added.
As the war for talent continues, the “total talent management” model has emerged. Through it, employers can deploy the right workforce for any project that may need to be done, be it via hiring contingent work, part-time workers or full-time talent.
“Increasingly, we hear our HR clients talking about total talent management and how they really need to look across every source of labor to get that work done,” Donovan said.
To successfully implement that model, employers need to get used to a “results-oriented environment,” Caputo said. Total talent management will require employers to change their mindset to ensure managers understand what the company considers productive. Butt-in-chair time as a measure of productivity is out.
Dealing with a future of talent shortages
Unfortunately, it’s unlikely these challenges will get easier. Employers that create a more sustainable work model now will survive when technology, the economy or both require quick reactions and innovations.
“A lot of companies are really interested in offering flexibility, but just offer it reactively,” Anna Auerbach, co-founder of Werk, said. “It’s often seen as a way to retain someone who is about to leave when really it is truly the future of work.”
Alternative work models are growing quickly — by more than 60% since 2005, according to Donovan. Even though alternative work is just 16% of the workforce, it is the fastest growing segment. Alternative work formats open up work to people of myriad backgrounds and enable organizational agility.
“Employers can’t underestimate the impact of tech,” Donovan said. “Our research has told us that 65% of Gen Z will be performing jobs that don’t exist yet."
In other words, alternative work may soon become just simple “work.”