Workforce Shortages and Your Career

I guess it’s a sign of improvement when a new problem can be seen as less egregious than a previously harder to solve problem. For much of the past 8 years we have concerned ourselves with getting people back to work-any work. To a large extent that has happened. Unemployment rates and the number of workers who can say they have a job are back to pre-recession levels. So now we have the “luxury” of concentrating on a replacement problem. That is the issue of workforce and labor shortages.

U.S. employers are struggling to find qualified workers in a number of fields, resulting in business expansion difficulties and by extension national economic constraints. It doesn’t sound as bad as the employment bounce-back the recession threw at us and it shouldn’t be. However if left unsolved it could become another factor reducing our global competitiveness and economic growth spurring calls for talent immigration, automation, and offshoring.

At an individual level the college student trying to select a major, the college graduate attempting to launch a career, the established professional looking to make a career transition, and the entrepreneur seeking lucrative opportunities are among those who may benefit from an analysis of where the workforce shortages currently exist and where employment projections are anticipated. Although such knowledge and considerations are not necessarily paramount determiners of one’s career development they are worth investigating to see if an alignment exists between these trends and one’s enduring or potential value proposition.

There are several reasons for the decline of qualified workers with demographics being the big one. The aging of Baby Boomers is naturally leading to more retirements and domestically there aren’t enough replacements. Ten years ago 400,000 workers per year retired. That number has risen to 1.2 million today. And the older population creates increased demand in fields such as healthcare where more workers are needed than in the past. For example physical therapists, occupational therapists, and even doctors are already in short supply and are still expected to be in the future.

However it isn’t just in healthcare where shortages exist. To be honest it does not appear that labor deficits are confined to just several industries but rather that it is a more widespread phenomenon. Even declining industries, such as manufacturing are experiencing acute scarcities. Of course not having enough workers trained with specific skills sets compounds the problem, but largely it is coming down to some basic math. Our bench is not populated enough to fill the number of vacating positions.

This should be good news for working-aged people. It suggests there could potentially be many fields and openings to pick from. Other benefits over time should include rising wages and continuously improving working conditions to retain talent.

To best position yourself to take advantage of this general opportunity some other trend lines should be considered. The Bureau of Labor Statistics foresees service sector jobs capturing 95% of newly created positions between now and 2024. Healthcare as mentioned above and social assistance jobs together will become the largest area of employment, surpassing government and business services jobs.

Technical occupations will also grow in number and demand looking forward. Automation will eliminate some jobs to be sure, but more likely is that technology will transform jobs that still need a person involved. The energy, transportation, and data analysis sectors are among those in need of technically trained people who can interact with and leverage technology productively.

I don’t want to treat too lightly the menace workforce shortages can have economically and socially. It is a serious issue, especially for some businesses poised to grow, but compared to the recessionary years I see more opportunity than threat here for the existing workforce and new entries to it to ensure they are selecting careers that can be their best fit.