Understanding the Challenges of Getting High-Quality Talent in the Hiring Crisis of 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic and associated economic disruption has created a complex labor environment where high-quality talent is very hard to find across many sectors. Here’s what to know about the hiring crisis, and how your company can navigate it.

Why is Getting High-Quality Talent so Hard for Many Companies?

    There’s a massive labor shortage in the USA right now, playing out across many sectors and industries.

    The shortage is so bad that it’s creating operational risks and even limiting service in many hospitality businesses. 

    Higher skill industries are struggling, too, though for mostly different reasons.

    Let’s get into why getting and retaining high-quality talent is so challenging at this time.

      Why is it So Hard to Find the Right Talent Right Now?

      In the US, it’s incredibly difficult to find talent in many sectors right now.

      The reasons for the hiring crisis are multifaceted and complex, and they aren’t all consistent from industry to industry.

      There are logistical and personal reasons stemming from the pandemic itself, and organizational culture certainly plays a role as well.

      We’ll outline the most significant reasons it’s difficult to find high-quality talent here:

      • Ongoing issues related to the pandemic and its ripple effects.
      • The talent gap.
      • Geographic limitations.
      • Little worker interest in some low-paying fields.
      • Skilled workers chasing better opportunities.
      • Fear of uncertainty and change.

      Let’s explore each of these in greater detail.

      1. COVID-19 issues: Childcare, health concerns and more

      The workforce has responded in complicated ways to the COVID-19 pandemic.

      Some workers have left the workforce to care for children or elders as the conventional support structures have become unreliable (K-12 schools) or carry additional risk (nursing homes).

      The burden of care affects female workers significantly more than male ones, leading to a gender-uneven return to work and jobs recovery.

      Some workers are fearful of returning to workplaces where they will be in close contact with others. 

      These workers are either withdrawing from the workforce or changing jobs (even industries) in pursuit of safer workplaces or remote work.

      A small percentage of the workforce is dealing with long COVID and is still unable or uncertain about their ability to work.

      Still, others got a taste of working remotely and they absolutely don’t want to go back to the way things were. 

      They’re changing companies where possible to find a position that will allow them to stay fully remote.

      There are likely other pandemic-related responses and factors beyond these, too. 

      Suffice it to say: the pandemic has disrupted the workforce in significant ways that are fueling parts of the shortage of high-quality talent.

      2. The talent gap

      In many skilled industries, there’s a significant talent gap making hiring difficult. 

      Simply stated, there aren’t enough doctors, nurses, data analysts, AI specialists, construction workers, and many other worker types to fill the available jobs in those fields.

      The reasons for these shortages are varied (when you’re looking at the short term). 

      There’s a doctor shortage because of the limits on residency programs. The nursing shortage has a whole lot to do with the ongoing fatigue and burnout associated with care during a pandemic.

      Construction workers left their trades in the Great Recession and haven’t come back, leading to the housing shortage (which is more a labor shortage than anything).

      High-tech jobs often rely on new workers entering the workforce with the appropriate skills, and there just aren’t enough of them being trained. 

      Older workers who can reskill could easily find work, but again, there just aren’t enough of these.

      The talent gap was already in place before the pandemic. And it’s only getting worse, as baby boomers retire en masse without enough younger workers with the right skills to replace them.

      Combined with other pandemic-related factors, the talent gap has led to a true crisis across many fields.

      3. Geographic limitations

      In some cases, there isn’t as much of a talent gap as there is a distribution problem. 

      Workers with the right skills can’t be found nearby and can’t be enticed to move.

      Admittedly, there are fewer high-tech jobs in rural communities and in middle America as a whole, but they do exist.

      And it can be hard to lure someone from Silicon Valley or New York to the middle of farm country. 

      Some may relish the change of pace, but many aren’t willing to make the move.

      Even unemployed people who could easily find work in another community sometimes aren’t willing to relocate. 

      Caregiving responsibilities or community ties keep them where they are — even though there are jobs just a few hours away.

      4. Little interest in some low-paying fields

      Right now the talent shortage is most acute in the hospitality industry. Most of these jobs are lower-paying and physically demanding.

      Also, many of these jobs put employees at higher levels of exposure to others (and, by extension, COVID).

      For these and other reasons, one recent survey identified that more than half of out-of-work hospitality workers wouldn’t return to their old jobs no matter what. 

      More than a third don’t plan to reenter hospitality work at all.

      Higher wages and better benefits could make a dent, but some workers are ready to move on to higher-skill, less physically demanding jobs.

      And given the market, there’s little to stop them from doing so.

      5. Skilled employees chasing better perks

      Given the crisis in high-quality talent, it’s certainly an employee’s market.

      This makes jumping ship for better benefits or higher pay much easier to do.

      When employees know how desperate the company down the street is, they’re bolder about negotiating better pay.

      Add to this the fact that companies tend to prioritize hiring far more than retention, and it’s a recipe for upheaval. 

      If employees know that their current employer isn’t likely to raise pay or add benefits, it’s even easier to consider moving on to greener pastures.

      6. Fear of uncertainty and change during a pandemic

      This point is somewhat the opposite perspective as the previous, but it’s just as important. 

      During a time of unprecedented uncertainty and change, some workers are fearful of additional uncertainty and change.

      Whether they’re currently employed or currently sitting out of the workforce, they’re fearful of the unknown that comes with making a change in employment.

      Companies trying to hire will have a difficult time convincing these people to leave their current jobs or reenter the workforce.

      When Should You Review Your Recruiting Strategy?

      If you’re struggling to find or retain high-quality talent, you’re not alone. 

      It’s just very hard to do right now.

      Still, it’s not wise to assume that your firm is doing everything right in terms of recruiting strategy.

      If you’re not hiring at the pace you want, then now is the perfect time to review your recruiting strategy.

      How exactly to do this goes beyond the scope of this article, but McKinsey offers some quality insights:

      • Focus on a small number of highly valuable positions rather than increasing recruiting intensity everywhere at once.
      • Create truly valuable offers of employment with tangible rewards (and deliver on what you promise). Here again, prioritize that small number of crucial jobs with more rewards.
      • Rely on technology for help finding the best-fit candidates (it outperforms human managers by a considerable margin).

      What Role Does Employer Branding Play in the Hiring Process?

      Employer branding is crucial in the hiring process, even more so during a hiring shortage. Here’s why.

      When unemployment is high and job openings are scarce, prospective workers aren’t so concerned about employer branding. They just want jobs.

      But when skilled people who want to work have their pick of multiple companies, that’s when employer branding becomes essential. 

      It can be the differentiator that makes your company stand out compared to the competition.

      The first level of employer branding is the easiest to control, even if many companies don’t give it much attention. This is the image that you create for yourself in your applicant-facing materials.

      Your hiring website, your application and interviewing process, and any hiring-related marketing initiatives you’re running all make up part of your employer brand.

      These elements communicate to applicants and prospective applicants what your company is like, and that can make a huge difference in how many — and which — applicants apply.

      There’s another much more important component to employer branding, one that takes far more work to cultivate: your own current and former employees’ opinions about working at your firm.

      When they have the option, people want to work for prestigious companies, not unknown ones. They also want to work for companies that are well-known as good places to work.

      If your current and former employees aren’t and didn’t enjoy their experiences with your company, that reputation is going to get out there, creating a negative employer brand.

      On the other hand, if people love working for your organization, that message will spread, too. Applicants will reach out to mutual contacts, people will post on sites like Glassdoor, and you’ll build a positive employer brand.

      What About Organizational Culture?

      Organizational culture is somewhat tied to the second half of your employer brand, but there are enough differences that it’s worth discussing separately.

      Applicants might not know everything there is to know about your organizational culture, but they will certainly get glimpses during the interviewing and hiring process. 

      And if they don’t like what they see, the best applicants will move on to another opportunity.

      It’s quite easy for the hiring process to make your organization look disorganized, sloppy, slow to communicate, or frustratingly opaque.

      And, truth be told, if your organization does have any of those tendencies, you can bet they’ll show up in the recruiting and hiring process.

      A company’s values and culture are inextricably linked to every aspect of that company, from what it’s like to work there day to day, to what job seekers will assume as they decide between offers.

      There’s another layer to consider here as well. 

      Your organizational culture directly affects those within the organization who are responsible to do the recruiting, interviewing and hiring.

      You can’t land top talent if the people finding the talent are themselves not fully engaged.

      So, on multiple levels, your organizational culture will affect hiring. Make sure you’re doing the work to create a culture people want to be in, not one they want to escape.

      Hiring is Only the First Step. Retention is Just as Important

      It’s hard to fill a leaky bucket.

      But that’s exactly what aggressive recruiting and hiring campaigns try to do if companies don’t first address retention.

      It’s a job-seeker’s market, so it’s not surprising that companies are also dealing with retention issues.

      Some attrition is unavoidable, but savvy businesses are working hard to hold their best talent so they can keep their overall hiring needs in check. 

      They’re also working to retain new hires: onboarding is costly, so you want to minimize the bad fits who leave after just a couple of months.

      Here’s the gist of the problem with retention in this market: if you aren’t the biggest or brightest, can’t pay the most, or don’t have the most appealing benefits package or organizational culture, your top performers may soon leave for a competitor that can offer something better.

      Unless you are the biggest player in your market, you likely can’t win on all points here. But you can do more on some of them, and you might be able to win on some, too.

      More money is always a good place to start, especially for your top performers.

      If you can’t pay more, build a culture that’s so wonderful, no one wants to leave.

      And take another look at your benefits and even in-office perks. 

      Perhaps there are small adjustments you can make that won’t break the P&L but will make a big difference to employees’ bottom lines or everyday lived experiences.

      Visually: Finding Talented Professionals Online

      We couldn’t finish this blog post without talking about Visually

      Our platform is an alternative for businesses that want high-quality talent to specific visual content creation demands, like videos, reports, infographics and microsites.

      There are over 1000 specialized creative professionals that could be handpicked for your projects. 

      Check out this video to know more about Visually:

      Wrap Up: The Search for High-Quality Talent

      The US labor market is undergoing some unusual stresses right now, leading to a serious challenge finding and keeping high-quality talent. 

      But with some creative thinking and intentional focus on organizational culture and employer brand, companies can distinguish themselves from the competition.

      Another element that’s crucial for attracting the best talent is a commitment to diversity and inclusion. 

      If you’d like to know more about the importance of diversity and inclusion in the workplace when hiring new staff, you can learn more with this blog post: Diversity and Inclusion: How to Build a Plural Environment in the Company.

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      Joey Hoelscher Rock author vector
      Rock Content Writer

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