Senior Manager, Communications and Strategy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
June 04, 2021
America is on the verge of what could be a great economic resurgence, but job creators are currently held back by a serious worker shortage. There are currently 8.1 million vacant job openings in the United States—and in several states and industries, there are fewer available workers than the total number of jobs open, according to new research from the U.S. Chamber.
Leaders from business and government came together during the U.S. Chamber’s Workforce: A Call to Action summit to examine the barriers to work for job seekers, highlight workforce challenges facing employers, and present practical solutions to align the public and private sectors in solving the nation’s workforce crisis.
Commerce Secretary Raimondo: Need More Public-Private Sector Engagement
During a keynote conversation with U.S. Chamber President and CEO Suzanne Clark, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo said she is hearing from CEOs across the country that workforce challenges are a top concern.
Today’s problems are a result of not enough integration between employers and government-funded job training programs, Raimondo said, but an opportunity exists now to switch things up and come together in partnership.
“There has to be dynamic and really constant engagement between the public and the private sector,” Raimondo said. “Businesses need to change the way they hire. It is still the case that many companies are searching for people with a four-year college degree to do a job that doesn't necessarily require a four-year college degree.”
Raimondo highlighted the Biden Administration’s American Jobs plan that calls for funding 1 million apprenticeships in building trades, as well as digital apprenticeships in cybersecurity, software engineering, accounting, and quality assurance—sectors that could lend themselves to the apprenticeship model.
To make the apprenticeship model successful, “business needs to lean in, but if we do, and when we do, I really think this is so critical to American competitiveness and to American wage growth,” Raimondo said.
“There's so much discussion about competition competing with China and leaning into tech that all revolves around talent, and we aren't going to compete successfully if we don't have talent in science and technology,” Raimondo said.
“We have a moment right now, to do it differently than has ever been done before and to really help businesses and help employees at the same time.”
Eliminating Barriers to Employment
Experts on barriers to employment for job seekers—like access to childcare, immigration constraints, and having a criminal record—joined the summit to explore practical solutions that employers can put into practice now, and policy changes at the federal and state level that would help connect employers to job seekers.
Accessing affordable childcare:Linda Smith, Director, Early Childhood Development Initiative at the Bipartisan Policy Center, said states now have funding from federal relief bills—including $25 billion in just the last six months—to put towards childcare options and incentives in their states.
“There is money out there that can be used to incentivize workers coming back to work,” Smith said. “And it can help stabilize the business model for the short term and hopefully give us something to build off of in the next few years.”
To urge your state leadership to take action, send a letter.
Overcoming a criminal record: One in three Americans has a criminal background, and every year more than 600,000 American former inmates return to society and face incredible hurdles when it comes to getting hired, according to the Society for Human Research Management (SHRM). For businesses, there are benefits that come from being a second-chance employer beyond just filling open positions.
“Second chance hiring improves efforts to create and develop an equitable, inclusive and diverse workplace,” said Wendi Safstrom, Executive Director, SHRM Foundation.
It’s also a powerful way to break the cycle of poverty, helping individuals and families strengthen their financial health and give back to their communities—and those improvements translate to a better economy and business climate for all.
Visit gettingtalentbacktowork.org for information on how to become a second-chance employer.
Getting the right training for today’s open jobs:Kentucky utilizes the U.S. Chamber Foundation’s Talent Pipeline Management (TPM) program to develop employer-driven solutions.
“Our partnership with the chamber, and the entire business community, allows us to hear from employers directly and make certain that Kentucky students are receiving the in demand training that they need to prepare for and to fill those jobs of the future,” said The Honorable Jacqueline Coleman, Lieutenant Governor of Kentucky.
For example, in Eastern Kentucky a TPM healthcare collaborative secured $2.5 million in funding for upskilling and wraparound services to fill needed nursing jobs and create a pipeline in the growing field of healthcare.
Get connected to the U.S. Chamber Foundation’s Talent Pipeline Management resources here.
Accessing a global talent pool: The construction industry will need over a million workers by 2023, estimates Michael D. Bellman, President and CEO of the Associated Builders and Contractors. Two things he said would help secure talent: Employers being able to sponsor workers on Temporary Protected Status for citizenship, and a merit-based system that allows employers to sponsor trained workers on a pathway to citizenship.
The telecommunications industry agrees on the need for more workers.
“We need workers from the high tech arena, we need workers in customer service, we need workers in house technical expertise,” said Susan Bitter Smith, Executive Director, Southwest Cable Communications Association. “Federally, there are many things that could be done to help us fill those needed positions starting with expanding the annual quota of H1 visas for high tech workers, which would be a huge step in making sure we can fill the demand for increased connectivity across the country.”
To urge your state leadership to take action on immigration policy, send a letter.
The summit highlighted the urgency of the worker shortage crisis and urged employers and the government to take action to address the workforce crisis now.
“No single policy or idea will fix this. But if we address these challenges holistically, if we harness the power of employer-led solutions and work with our public sector partners, we will get the job done,” said Clark.
“This country has been blessed with many competitive advantages, above all of them, the talent and energy and ingenuity of our people. When you lead the world and talent, you lead the world in solutions with a highly skilled workforce.”
About the authors
Lindsay is a manager on the communications and strategy team. She previously worked as a writer and editor at U.S. News and World Report.