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Staffing Issues and the Workforce Shortages - Part 1 of our 5 Part Trends Series

“Help Wanted” messages are everywhere.

Michigan’s Labor Market News reports that 2021 was a record year for job advertisements. There were over one million total online job ads in Michigan, which is the highest number of postings ever recorded by a full 200,000 jobs. The demand for employees spans retail, hospitality, transportation, warehousing, manufacturing, business services and others. Michigan, along with most of the nation, is crying out for workers.

Although much of the blame has been placed on the impact of COVID-19, as workers were calling in sick or choosing to drop out of the workforce due to a variety of reasons, this staffing shortage has been brewing for quite some time. When we see the demographic squeeze of retiring baby boomers and the decline in the birthrate, a worker shortage was almost inevitable. Our longer-term talent and labor supply problems need to be addressed now, before it’s too late.

Michigan Governor Whitmer has proposed a plan to fill the gap in her MI New Economy plan, which is intended to grow the middle class, support small businesses and invest in our community with the hopes of expanding economic opportunities and prosperity for all. But what do we do while her plan is ramping up?

One of the sectors hardest hit by declining interest is education. Fewer college students want to be teachers. According to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Title II program which supports teacher training and professional development, nearly every teacher-prep program in Michigan is enrolling fewer students. Since 2008, the number of Michigan college students studying to become a teacher is down more than 50%. Teachers play an invaluable role in shaping the lives of our youth and making a positive impact in our communities, yet they don't often receive the appreciation the job deserves. Just like any profession, teachers want to get the support and professional development they need to be successful. Outstanding educators have found themselves frustrated and many are looking for other career options.

Our education system is the foundation of our recovery. If we don’t have educators, our youth don’t learn what’s needed to be successful in the future.

America is also facing a growing problem with vocational education, which trains workers in job-related skills. According to, “America is facing a great talent recession.” More than 50 million Americans are stuck in low-wage jobs without much prospect of acquiring the skills needed to climb out of poverty; at the same time, three-quarters of employers say that they can’t hire people with the requisite skills. This “chicken or the egg” conundrum is not helping our staffing shortage. Courtney Brown, Vice President of Strategic Impact for the Lumina Foundation stated “to make real progress for individual citizens and our society as a whole, we must reach those who have been left out or left behind, including racial and ethnic minorities, low-income workers, immigrants, and those who can’t access training and good jobs. This is not just about jobs-- this is about our citizens, our society and economy.”

Formal college degrees remain out of reach for many people, yet Americans with no postsecondary degree or credentials have seen a significant drop in job opportunities that pay a living wage. Professional certifications offer workers an alternative pathway to good jobs. According to Gallup, about half of U.S. workers with a high school degree and professional certifications are in good jobs, second only to those with Ph.D’s. Certifications can be tailored to meet industry needs, offering a way for employers to assess the readiness of job candidates. If we can help create more access to technical, trade, vocational, industry or apprenticeship certifications, we create pathways that are more inclusive to all workers.

Could Gen Z be the solution to our employee shortage?

Born between 1995 and 2012, Gen Z currently makes up about one-fourth of the U.S. population and is the most diverse generation in our nation’s history. Radically different from the Millennial generation, Gen Z has an entirely different perspective on work, life and how to define success. Employers must take note of what’s important to this generation and adapt their businesses in order to effectively recruit talent in the future, or their open jobs will remain painfully unfilled.

According to a YPulse presentation that was given at TMRE in November, 2021, Gen Z has experienced a shift in their values post COVID-19. Their biggest personal goals include:

  1. Finishing high school

  2. Earning more money

  3. Taking care of mental health

  4. Being healthy / fit

  5. Finding a job

So you might think pay increases are the solution to the employee shortage in the future. Not so fast. While salary is the most important factor in deciding on a job, according to Deloitte, Generation Z values salary less than every other generation. If given the choice of accepting a better-paying but boring job versus work that was more interesting but didn’t pay as well, Gen Z was fairly split over the choice.

How do you lure Gen Z (as well as others) into your company to fill your jobs? You’ve got to realize that recruiting talent today is much different than it has been in the past. In order to gain the attention of the majority of available workers today, companies, employers, and educational institutions will need to win their hearts. Causes are important to this generation and we are seeing an increasing number of employees looking for employers to be good citizens that demonstrate a commitment to communities and issues that impact the human experience.

What does this all mean for our employer partners? In order to attract and retain the best candidates to fill your open positions, you will need to develop a new mindset. What worked 10, 5, or even last year to get people to fill out applications won’t work anymore. To improve your chances of filling your talent pipeline, you are going to need to get creative.

  • Start with a solid reputation. Consider the attractiveness of your industry and the perceptions of your organization. If you’ve had mis-steps, take responsibility for them and work on your employer brand.

  • Consider partnering with post secondary institutions to bridge the gap between education and employment.

  • Create robust training, apprenticeships and leadership programs, encourage diversity and build a sense of belonging within your organization.

  • Identify career paths, flexible work formats and incentives that show employees that you value their contributions. Build personal relationships that increase your chances of retaining talent once they are employed.

How can Youth Solutions help you address your staffing issues and workforce shortages? What are we doing to address these concerning trends?

Our Youth Solutions staff has a variety of professionals with diverse backgrounds and each is working to address these issues that could ultimately have a negative impact on the youth we serve throughout Michigan. We are committed to inspiring and connecting youth to achieve a future beyond imagination. Understanding that our purpose will require outreach efforts that bring our youth and their potential employers together, we are always searching for creative solutions to bridge that gap. Look for Youth Solutions to be:

  • Preparing Michigan’s youth with the skills required for success in employment and in life.

  • Taking an active role in elevating the profession to try and attract the right young people into the teaching profession to provide the best outcomes for all.

  • Working with our employer partners to help them showcase their companies to the youth who are involved in our programs. We believe that the more we can engage the youth in workforce experiences, the more likely we are to create a connection that ends in a mutually beneficial solution that gives the employer and the employee what they need in order to be successful.

  • Advocating in the areas that will have the greatest impact on Michigan’s youth, elevating their voices so their needs can be addressed.

We’d like your feedback. Tell us what you think about our first installment of the 5 Important Trends Impacting Workforce Development and Education.

What other factors do you believe are playing a role in the current staffing and workforce shortages?

What other workforce development and education-related topics would you like us to consider?


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