Competition for Talent: Expanding Opportunities for the Workforce of Tomorrow

Here's how both businesses and government can address the workforce crisis by helping get sidelined workers in overlooked talent pools back on the job.


Air Date: February 8, 2022

Moderator: Suzanne P. Clark, President and CEO, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Curtis Dubay, Chief Economist, U.S Chamber of Commerce, Cheryl A. Oldham, Vice President of Education Policy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Neil Bradley, Executive Vice President, Chief Policy Officer, and Head of Strategic Advocacy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Martin Durbin, Senior Vice President, Policy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Featured Guests: Lisa B. Callahan, Vice President, General Manager of Commercial Civil Space, Lockheed Martin Space

Today, American companies are tackling some of the biggest challenges and opportunities facing our country.

To help the business community better understand the landscape, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce launched The Competition Series, a four-week dialogue diving deeper into key issues outlined during State of American Business 2022. The fourth episode, “Competition for Talent: Expanding Opportunities for the Workforce of Tomorrow,” wraps up the month-long series on competition with a focus on addressing the workforce crisis by helping to get sidelined workers back on the job.

“The worker shortage is a crisis,” said U.S. Chamber President and CEO Suzanne Clark. “It’s contributing to supply chain disruptions and rising inflation. We can’t simply move people from one industry to another to solve this challenge. We must grow our workforce if we want to grow our economy and stay competitive.”

Commonsense Immigration Reform

Rep. María Elvira Salazar (R-FL) appeared on this episode of The Competition Series alongside Neil Bradley, executive vice president, chief policy officer, and head of Strategic Advocacy at the U.S. Chamber, to discuss immigration reform. Sensible immigration reform could not only help alleviate the workforce shortage and its associated issues—it could help bring new talent into the country and foster economic growth. That’s why it’s so vital to get right.

Last year, Rep. Salazar introduced the Dignity Act to help find an overarching, bipartisan solution to immigration and end decades of gridlock.

“We know that the system is broken,” said Rep. Salazar. “My bill is going to do a few very important things. On the economic side, it is going to replenish the workforce and build a new one.”

She also said that addressing issues at the border itself should be just a first step to more comprehensive reform.

“We need to do the border [and] put order at the border,” Salazar said. “And then give dignity to those who are here. Provide a workforce for people who want to do the right thing, who want to follow the rules, who want to pay their workers legally, and then want those workers to pay their taxes. We are taking the dysfunctionality out of the system.”

In the State of American Business Keynote Address, Clark made clear the U.S. Chamber’s stance on immigration including doubling the number of people legally immigrating to the U.S. and creating a permanent solution for Dreamers—young men and women who know no other home and whose legal status is in limbo.

Salazar said that by 2035, 35% of workers will be immigrants and that one out of five businesses started in the U.S. is created by immigrants—underlining the huge importance of immigrants to the economy as a whole.

“Immigrants are in love with America,” Salazar said. “We just want to create a fair set of rules so they can come, enjoy the Promised Land, and help the American economy.”

How Employers Must Adapt to Find Workers

Workers are trickling back into the workforce, but there are still almost 11 million job openings and only 6.5 million unemployed workers. Meaning that even if every unemployed person in the country found a job, we would still have a shortfall of 4.4 million open jobs in the economy.

Two economists who joined the conversation with U.S. Chamber Senior Economist Curtis Dubay said that they don’t see the labor shortage ending anytime soon.

“The next decade is going to be a lot tighter labor market, on average, and a lot better for workers, on average, than the previous decade,” said Adam Ozimek, chief economist at Upwork. “We shouldn’t expect easy hiring conditions.”

Daniel Zhao, senior economist and data scientist at Glassdoor, pointed out that currently more than half of job seekers are applying to jobs using their phones. This means that not only should employers make sure their job application process is mobile-friendly, but that they need to meet prospective employees where they are at—and not expect workers to flock to them.

“It’s important to listen to the employee voice,” Zhao said. “Because there’s increased competition and turnover—it’s going to be increasingly important to understand what employees want and need. Regardless of whether that’s remote work, better pay, better benefits. Fundamentally, it’s that shift in the balance of power that’s going to be driving our conversations for the next several years.”

Another key difference in this new labor market will be the continuing rise of remote work. Ozimek said that employers who ignore this trend do so at their own peril.

“Remote work is not going away—it’s going to be a major feature of the economy,” he said. “Businesses who think that the return to normalcy is going to mean remote work doesn’t matter to them anymore are making a serious mistake. If you don’t learn how to embrace remote work, your competitors may.”

Getting Workers off the Sidelines

One thing that can help alleviate the worker shortage crisis is ensuring often-neglected talent pools find fewer barriers to entering—or re-entering—the workforce.

Three non-profit leaders joined the conversation with Cheryl Oldham, senior vice president of the Center for Education and Workforce at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, to discuss how they are working to connect employers with workers in sometimes overlooked talent pools.

Mary Kay Ziniewicz, founder of Bus Stop Mamas, started her company when she realized that many women with great educations and resumes were finding it difficult or impossible to return to the workforce after a break to provide childcare.

“The problem is that businesses need her, they need her talent and her skillset,” Ziniewicz said. “We need employers who are building jobs with flexible work that fits into the lifecycle of her children.”

Larysa Kautz, president & CEO of Melwood, a non-profit working to connect disabled workers with job opportunities in the Washington, D.C, region, says that employers often over-estimate the cost of hiring and accommodating disabled workers.

“There are fears or myths out there that accommodating someone with an intellectual or developmental disability is going to be extremely expensive or difficult,” Kautz said. “They’re overlooked as candidates when, really, the cost to accommodate someone with a disability is often zero, or $500 and a one-time expense. Options like flexible working hours and work-from-home can support people in many populations.”

Yaron Schwartz, senior manager of private sector partnerships at Tent Partnership for Refugees, helps to guide companies that are looking to find and hire refugees. Recently, he has connected with dozens of U.S. companies looking to hire Afghan refugees.

“There’s a genuine interest in supporting Afghan allies, particularly from veterans at these businesses who might have served alongside these folks,” Schwartz said. “Companies are seeing that refugees can really be a great source of talent for their business whether it be because refugees have higher retention rates or are incredibly hardworking.”

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