Lindsay Cates Lindsay Cates
Senior Manager, Communications and Strategy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Richard Hartnett Richard Hartnett
Former Manager, Communications and Strategy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce


September 02, 2021


Across all sectors of the economy, many businesses trying to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic are facing yet another challenge: a shortage of workers. According to the latest Job Openings and Labor Turnover Statistics (JOLTS) data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were 10.1 million job openings in June—and that number continues to escalate. Businesses added over 590,000 more jobs since May, and 3.3 million since the beginning of 2021.

With a record number of job openings and increased turnover across several industries, employers are having to change their approach to hiring and workforce retention.

Industries that have been especially hard-hit by shortages, like manufacturing, healthcare, travel, and services, are now taking a second look at how to attract workers and expand their potential candidate pools. Some businesses have turned to incentives such as hiring bonuses, flexible schedules, or bonuses for perfect attendance.

Nearly four in 10 (39%) unemployed Americans who lost their jobs during the pandemic and are not actively looking for work said that a $1,000 hiring bonus would increase their urgency to return to full-time employment, according to a recent U.S. Chamber poll. Others cited work-from-home flexibility (32%) and worker vaccination requirements (23%).

However, getting workers through the door is only one part of the equation. To fill every open job, we need solutions that invest in upskilling and reskilling workers and eliminate barriers to re-entering the workforce like childcare or criminal records. The U.S. Chamber and U.S. Chamber Foundation’s America Works program is mobilizing industry and government and developing workforce solutions that address America’s worker shortage in some of the hardest hit industries.


Not only did the pandemic scramble manufacturers’ business operations and supply chains, but it exacerbated a shortage of skilled workers. A 2018 Deloitte study found that over the next decade, 22% of skilled manufacturing workers will retire, and the industry is projected to be two million workers short of its need.

As of June, the manufacturing industry had 826,000 unfilled jobs and an unemployment rate of 6.3% (compared to 5.4% across industries).

In the wake of the pandemic, Stuart Stein, President of ESCO Manufacturing in Watertown, SD, said many manufacturing companies in the town are all vying for the same types of applicants, specifically welding and painting.

Stein, who never had to lay off any employees during COVID, now says employees have been leaving his company for higher wages as businesses that did lay off employees are trying to attract people to come back to work for them.

For manufacturers, creating strong, localized talent pipelines with education partners in the community is essential to finding workers with the right specialized skills. Wyoming Machine, a sheet metal manufacturing company in Stacy, Minnesota, couldn’t find welders and laser operators with the right technical skills, and even noticed some current employees lacked basic math and blueprint reading skills.

Through the U.S. Chamber Foundation’s Talent Pipeline Management (TPM) program—an America Works initiative—the small business now partners with local technical colleges to provide on-site, customized training to employees.


Healthcare workers are in short supply as well. A survey conducted by McKinsey & Company found that 22% of nurses indicated an intention to leave their current position providing patient care. Mercer recently projected that demand for healthcare workers will outpace supply by as soon as 2025.

The Chamber Foundation’s TPM model can also help shore up talent pipelines for clinics, hospitals and health systems that need specialized nurses. For example, the

Greater Phoenix Chamber Foundation established a partnership with local community colleges to align the curriculum of nursing and healthcare programs with the most critical areas of need, leading to the state of Arizona approving a $5.8 million budget request to expand nursing programs at its colleges.

Similarly, when Local First Arizona identified a shortage of certified nursing assistants (CNAs) across rural Arizona, through TPM they were able to connect a local assisted living facility with funding to expand their CNA training program, providing a larger talent pipeline for assisted living facilities, in-home care companies, and hospitals in the area.

An escalating problem

Beyond manufacturing and healthcare, the worker shortage crisis has created headaches for businesses small and large operating in travel, leisure, services, food, hospitality, entertainment, tech, energy and more.

As of June, the healthcare industry had 1.5 million unfilled jobs, and an unemployment rate of 7%; the leisure and hospitality industry had 1.65 million unfilled jobs, and an unemployment rate of 10% (compared to 5.4% across industries).

In a recent American Hotel & Lodging Association survey, 96% of respondents report having open positions that they cannot fill at their hotels despite actively seeking staff, and 63% report being severely understaffed.

More than 60% of franchise brands and owners said they cannot find the labor to meet current demand, according to a recent International Franchise Association survey—which includes businesses across sectors including restaurants, hotels and lodging, gyms, personal services, and health care.

Across industries, the workforce challenges are going beyond just finding workers: Nine in ten executives say they are seeing higher turnover than normal, according to PwC’s most recent Next in Work survey.

That aligns with the latest data from BLS showing quit rates above pre-pandemic levels and continuing to rise. As of June 2021, the highest quit rates are occurring in accommodation and food services (5.7%), leisure and hospitality (5.3%), and retail trade (4.1%).

The U.S. Chamber and U.S. Chamber Foundation are working every day to help businesses facing a double dose of workforce challenges. Through America Works, we are connecting businesses with local education partners; researching innovative childcare solutions; and advocating for second chance hiring, smart immigration reforms, and greater investments in skills training.

Learn more and get connected with the talent your business needs at

About the authors

Lindsay Cates

Lindsay Cates

Lindsay is a senior manager on the communications and strategy team. She previously worked as a writer and editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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Richard Hartnett

Richard Hartnett

Richard is a former manager on the communications and strategy team.