June 01, 2021


By analyzing more than two decades worth of federal jobs and employment data and conducting surveys of top industry association economists and local and state chamber of commerce leaders across the country, we examined the current state of the American workforce and the monumental challenges employers are facing across the country.


American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers
Adam Ali, Manager of Workforce Development

The most in-demand roles right now are in I.T. and Cyber. Challenges we face with the I.T. market are requests for remote work and the level of experience/skill set needed to fill these roles. Operating in a post-Covid environment, we see many more people asking for remote working arrangements that are hard to accommodate in our industries. We find it challenging to fill unskilled worker categories and plant operators since many folks receive enhanced unemployment benefits compared to regular pay levels. Niche and experienced engineering roles are always challenging (Controls, Instrument), and some are unwilling to work without flexible work arrangements. We see demand in skilled crafts increasing for Pipefitting, Electrical, Welding, Mobile Crane/Rigging, Carpentry, and Instrumentation – with E&I technicians being one of the most challenging positions to fill.

Key Stat: Employees in the fuel industry earn more than the national median.1 Filling unskilled jobs under $19.00 have become increasingly difficult due to current COVID-related unemployment benefits. After 14 months of managing 24-hour operations during a pandemic, our operations have started to implement de-escalation management plans inclusive of the encouragement of getting the vaccine.

Entertainment and Hospitality

American Hotel & Lodging Association
Rosanna Maietta, Executive Vice President, Communications & Public Relations, AHLA, and President & CEO, AHLA Foundation

The pandemic has been devastating to the hospitality industry workforce. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, leisure and hospitality have lost 3.1 million jobs during the pandemic that have yet to return, representing more than a third of all unemployed persons in the United States. Even starker, the unemployment rate in the accommodation sector remains 330% higher than the rest of the economy. Unfortunately, the road to recovery for the hotel industry is long. As hotels across the industry begin to ramp up hiring to accommodate an increase in leisure travel this summer as more people are vaccinated, hotels in major markets across the country are struggling to rehire or hire associates.

With over 200 different career paths, endless possibilities exist for associates to create lifelong careers in the hotel industry. The industry also offers associates competitive pay, generous benefits, and the ability to be promoted or transfer skills to any hotel across the globe. Yet, in a recent AHLA member survey, 96% of respondents report having open positions that they cannot fill at their hotels despite actively seeking staff. Additionally, 61% of survey respondents have less than half of their pre-COVID staff working today.

Key Stat:In an anonymous AHLA member 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.


National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions
Anthony Demangone, EVP/COO

As a smaller employer, which most trade associations are, we are looking for people who have a broad range of skills within a given area rather than someone who is very narrowly focused – sometimes that means a longer search to find the right fit. We always have been a very fast-moving workplace, putting the needs of our members first. That means that our staff members work hard, and we don’t fit the picture some people might have of a “sleepy” association.

It was coming already in the last couple of years, but the pandemic accelerated the demand for digital skills, and we only expect that to increase, particularly as we see virtual events continuing to be an important part of our offerings to members.

It can be challenging for us to find legal counsel in the regulatory affairs and compliance areas, as we compete with some private employers and firms that may pay more. The fact that we could hire remotely during the pandemic opened up some candidates for counsel roles that we previously might not have considered and has helped us to hire well. The consideration of remote work may be both a benefit and a challenge to our future retention and hiring, however – as we look at fully opening our office again and asking staff to come back in, the continued interest in full-time remote work may result in some incumbents saying “no” to returning to the office environment and/or candidates turning down a position that may require them to come into the office.

Key Stat: Our association is adding new positions because of all the new directions our services to members are taking.

Food and Beverage

International Dairy Foods Association
Heather Soubra, Chief of Staff

The U.S. dairy processing industry, like many other industries, is facing a severe labor shortage. Our members struggle to find people with the skills and willingness to fill jobs in their plants and ancillary roles (e.g., commercial truck drivers). Reasons employers cite for this issue include limited access to employment visas for highly technical positions, generous unemployment benefit payments, and lack of child care due to the COVID pandemic.

In response to this shortage, dairy processing facilities are trying several new things, including the following:

  • Dropping minimum high school/GED requirements, background checks, and pre-employment drug testing (especially THC).
  • Granting benefits eligible on day one of employment.
  • Hiring, referral, and retention bonuses.
  • Introducing or Offering free pay-for-skills programs to develop specialized employee skills.
  • Schedule shift changes to allow people to manage school-age children and other family needs, get another job or have weekends off.
  • Looking internally to make plants more effective – purchase machines and other automation or combine functions and pay current employees more.
  • Retention pay for long-time employees who mentor and increase retention of new employees.
  • Hiring former military, current military spouses, or ex-convicts.
  • Recruiting from U.S. territories where workers are idle due to hurricanes and COVID.
  • Working with local governments to develop affordable housing options.

Housing, Real Estate and Construction

National Apartment Association
Sarah Cozewith, Workforce Development

According to data provided by Burning Glass Technologies over the past year, property managers have been most in demand, while the highest growth in job openings has been for maintenance talent. Property managers have proven critical to rental housing operations throughout the pandemic and account for the industry’s highest percentage of job openings. In contrast, leasing positions have fallen in demand and represent the lowest percentage of job openings for onsite property management positions, largely due to the industry’s shift to virtual leasing platforms. As the apartment industry continues to recover, more in-unit maintenance activities will resume, and it is expected that job growth will continue to rise in the maintenance career pathway. However, recruiting qualified maintenance professionals is challenging due to a lack of industry awareness, competition with higher-paying construction-related jobs, and difficulty reaching the desired audience through advertising. To help combat this, employers have partnered with training providers and community-based organizations to develop unique technical training programs to prepare new and untapped pipelines of talent for work.

It is predicted that leasing roles may remain lower as prospective residents have become accustomed to leasing virtually and management firms have adapted to the technologies that have supported them throughout the pandemic. Advanced training that includes upgrading skills in customer service, communications, and computer skills to accommodate changing job descriptions is expected.

Top skills across the property manager role include budgeting, staff management, communication skills, and Microsoft Office. Essential skills for maintenance workers include plumbing, HVAC, organizational skills, and preventive maintenance.

During the first quarter of 2021, the total number of apartment industry job postings increased by 8 percent over the previous five-year average. Employers are turning to those unemployed and dislocated by other service sector industries hardest hit by the pandemic, such as retail and hospitality, hoping to hire candidates with transferrable skills and work experiences into the apartment industry.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the recruiting and hiring timeline has experienced considerable impacts. The national time to fill apartment jobs increased from 45.9 days in 2019 to 48.4 days in 2020. Employers likely struggled to fill vacancies quickly because job seekers were more cautious about which jobs to apply for due to safety concerns. In addition, government financial assistance, and concerns related to school closings and childcare, may have also impacted job searches and, therefore, time to fill vacant positions.

Key Stat: During the first quarter of 2021, the total number of apartment industry job postings increased by 8 percent over the previous five-year average.

National Association of Home Builders
Robert Dietz, Chief Economist

The construction industry, including home builders, remodelers, and apartment developers, has faced a significant skilled labor shortage since the end of the Great Recession. The industry is currently short 200,000 to 300,000 workers, despite the residential construction industry adding 88,000 jobs on a net basis in 2020.

The industry needs workers in the occupations of framing and carpentry most, but the sector is short on a broad set of skilled professionals, including plumbers, electricians, masons, etc. Some of the need for talent is due to an aging workforce.

The current challenge is recruiting people into the sector when a growing share of the population is moving toward a four-year university education. The industry needs to do a better job explaining how a career in the trade can lead to small business ownership. The industry also needs to expand its recruitment base. For example, only 10% of workers in the construction industry are women.

Any infrastructure legislation must include substantial resources for workforce development.

Key Stat: 76% of home builders report ongoing challenges recruiting workers into the construction industry. It is an important reason that the nation has underbuilt housing over the last decade.

American Council of Engineering Companies
Jeff Urbanchuk, Vice President, Communications and Marketing

An overall talent shortage in the engineering industry makes it challenging for firms to serve their clients as fully as possible.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has reported incremental growth in bachelor’s degrees in engineering since 2000, but these very modest increases are not nearly enough to meet the demands of a growing economy and plan to design and build modern infrastructure. The engineering workforce is also getting older. Nearly 30 percent of all engineering and science degree holders in the labor force are 50 or over and expected to retire in the next 15 years. Moreover, NSF reports that in 2015 half of engineering master’s degrees awarded by U.S. universities were earned by foreign nationals on temporary visas, including 70 percent of master’s degrees in electrical engineering. Limited numbers of H-1B visas and green cards mean that most of those degree recipients will not be available to work for U.S. engineering firms.

Firms are having trouble finding enough professionally licensed engineers, architects, and surveyors, especially those with 10 to 15 years of experience. There is a pronounced lack of experienced mechanical and electrical engineers due in part to the NSF data point above. Engineering firms also face a shortage of skilled individuals who have or can earn technical certifications for lab and fieldwork.

In addition, engineering firms report significant challenges in recruiting individuals with project management experience and mid-level and senior-level leaders.

Finally, smaller engineering firms state that it is particularly difficult for them to recruit experienced engineers, especially if relocation would be required. Three-quarters of ACEC member firms have 100 employees or fewer.

Key Stat: According to the National Science Foundation (NSF), the engineering workforce is getting older. Nearly 30 percent of all engineering and science degree holders in the labor force are 50 or over and expected to retire in the next 15 years. Moreover, NSF reports that in 2015 half of engineering master’s degrees awarded by U.S. universities were earned by foreign nationals on temporary visas, including 70 percent of master’s degrees in electrical engineering.


National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies (NAMIC)
Tony Cotto, Director of Auto and Underwriting Policy

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of insurance professionals aged 55 and older has increased 74% in the last ten years, leading the BLS to estimate that over the next 15 years, 50% of the current insurance workforce will retire, leaving more than 400,000 open positions unfilled. All facets of the insurance industry will struggle to replace these workers at every level, particularly because millennials have not shown significant interest in insurance careers – less than 25% of the industry is under 35. At the same time, the industry’s unemployment rate remains well below the national average as insurers zealously compete for qualified talent.

As the business of assessing risk, underwriting, and selling insurance becomes more dependent on technology, insurers must find ways to attract tech-savvy talent across all departments, not just for historically back-office I.T. roles. Frequent upskilling and cross-training will be necessary to retain the current workforce by investing in on-the-job learning and development to help bridge generational talent gaps. While the future insurance industry workforce will still largely fall into key areas of (1) sales, (2) underwriting, (3) customer service, (4) technology, and (5) claims, career paths across historical silos and into management roles will be more important than ever to retention.

Significant challenges and impediments for finding candidates and filling openings at this time include a limited number of dedicated Risk Management and Insurance programs at universities, high turnover rates in entry-level positions, a poor understanding of different roles across the industry, and a general perception that the insurance industry and its corporate culture is boring. Insurance companies are trying to attract new talent in a rapidly changing digital landscape by focusing on ways to tie emerging technology, data science, and analytics to traditional insurance career paths, including efforts like starting their own innovation labs for new products and processes. Additionally, insurers are making more concerted efforts to promote their businesses as socially responsible, implement flexible work schedules, increasingly allow remote work, and invest in training and advancement opportunities for existing staff.

Key Stat:Over the next 15 years, 50% of the current insurance workforce will retire; this retirement cliff will leave more than 400,000 open positions unfilled, while less than 25% of the industry is under the age of 35.


ESCO Manufacturing
Stuart Stein, President

ESCO Manufacturing, located in Watertown, SD, faces a considerable challenge to fill open positions with qualified applicants. Our local community is filled with many manufacturing companies, all vying for the same types of applicants, specifically welding and painting. This has created an unusual labor market in which our previous pay scales, based on real market data, have essentially been “thrown out the window.” Post-pandemic, the wages within the labor market are being driven up by employees testing the waters with other companies, which has increased their expected wages. While this is a good thing from the employee perspective, it creates a trickle-down effect for the employer and pricing structure.

Key Stat: 10% - That was our turnover percentage in 2020, which was about half of the local manufacturing turnover rate. Fortunately, we didn’t have to lay off any employees through COVID. Fast forward to today, employees have been leaving our company for higher wages as the businesses that laid-off employees are trying to attract people to come back to work for them.

All-Right Sign, Inc.
Tabitha Bowen, Manager

From my perspective, the most in-demand and hardest-to-find workers are skilled labor installers, service technicians, production workers, and sign designers. The main skills that installers and service technicians need to possess are strong mechanical skills, the ability to use hand tools and operate equipment, troubleshoot and conduct proper, professional electrical installations, and the ability to read sketches, site plans, drawings, and blueprints, and maps. Designers in this industry need to be familiar with industry substrates, media, products and proficient with Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop, and Microsoft Office. Another obstacle we face when looking for good candidates is the willingness to come to work every day and go above and beyond.

Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association
Catherine Boland, Vice President, Legislative Affairs

The Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association (MEMA) is the nation’s leading trade association representing motor vehicle parts suppliers. It represents over 1,000 companies that manufacture components, technologies, and systems for use in passenger vehicles and commercial trucks. MEMA members provide original equipment (O.E.) components for new vehicles, as well as aftermarket parts to service, maintain, and repair millions of vehicles on the road today. In total, vehicle parts manufacturers represent the largest sector of manufacturing jobs in the United States, directly employing over 907,000 people in all 50 states. Our members lead the way in developing advanced, transformative technologies that enable safer, smarter, and more efficient vehicles.

Vehicle suppliers drive innovation for the motor vehicle industry. Technology development and manufacturing will fuel the next generation of advanced vehicles, whether they are equipped with automated driving systems or powered by electric and fuel cell sources. On average, it takes anywhere between 5-10 years of supplier investments for a product to go from the initial stage of product concept research to product manufacturing and deployment. For this reason, many vehicle suppliers are already working on the next generation of new technologies that will keep America a leader in the global marketplace as passenger vehicles and commercial trucks evolve to meet transportation needs. However, to implement new technologies and keep the North American supply chain robust, suppliers rely on a strong, skilled workforce to ensure this production remains in the United States.

With this focus on innovation, our skilled workforce needs are evolving. Suppliers are focused on training employees to work with high-speed video cameras, advanced robotics, precision assembly, Internet of Things (IoT) technologies to improve production efficiency and program automated manufacturing systems. In support of that, training programs need to upskill workers in areas that make these technologies possible, such as software development and data sciences, which are more critical than ever for the industry.

The industry relies on strong workforce development programs for the necessary tools and funds to train and upskill workers. These programs have long-term positive impacts on the economy and the job market.

Key Stat: An insufficient labor force can mean delays in production and service, resulting in long-term negative impacts on companies, their operations, and employees. Despite the unemployment levels, a significant skills gap hinders many workers from obtaining these high-paying jobs.

Consumer Brands Association
Katie Denis, Vice President, Research and Narrative

Our industry is reporting challenges finding workers for their manufacturing facilities and contending with labor shortages throughout the supply chain. While the truck driver shortage is not a new problem, labor issues at the front end of the supply chain (raw inputs and ingredients) are exacerbating the problems they have finding workers for their own ranks. Demand for CPG products has been relentless throughout the pandemic and has accelerated in the first quarter of 2021. This past March was the second-highest demand we’ve seen since March 2020, when panic buying swept store shelves clean—and the more recent sales numbers show only a 1.4% dip from the year before. The CPG workforce is essential and has been operating throughout the pandemic, leading to increased wages across the industry. Despite paying employees more, the CPG industry added only 4,300 jobs last month. The number is made starker when considered against job openings data that shows 572,000 openings in all manufacturing, up from 537,000 the month before — and the surge in unfilled jobs is primarily in nondurable goods manufacturing, which jumped 20% this month.

Key Stat: The industry is paying wages 3.4% higher than last year, yet added only 4,300 jobs last month when there are far more unfilled positions.

Plastic Industry Association
Perc Pineda, Chief Economist

The plastics industry employed over a million workers in 2019. When considering the employees in upstream industries suppliers to the plastics industry, total employees increase to 1.5 million. Between 2012 and 2019, employment in plastics manufacturing rose 1.6% - higher than the 1.0% increase in all of U.S. manufacturing. While our industry experienced faster employment growth compared to the total manufacturing of the economy, tight labor supply - particularly skilled workers - has been an ongoing issue.

The plastics industry is hiring. However, the skills gap for manufacturing has been widening in the U.S. This can be attributed to five factors discussed in our white paper “An Analysis of Workforce Development issues in the U.S. Plastics Industry” (

The first is demographics. New entrants into the labor market have been rising slower than those retiring or leaving the workforce. Second, the U.S. educational curriculum is not in sync with the workforce of the future. As technology enhances manufacturing processes and workers’ skills are not updated, the skills gap will continue to widen. Third, the advances in technology - which will continue to create new jobs or occupations that did not exist before - have intensified labor demand in the U.S. economy. Fourth, regional economic development plays a critical role in supporting continued labor market flexibility as new graduates are hesitant to move into the rural areas and would rather remain in big cities. Fifth, workers will respond positively to prospects of career advancement along with other economic incentives.

Wages in the plastics industry are competitive, and the job opening forecast for our industry is promising. The plastics industry relies on engineers throughout its value chain. That is why an average of 71,500 job openings for engineers is being projected annually between 2016 - 2026, as shown in the accompanying infographic.

The 15,700 + establishments of the U.S. plastics industry kept working during the pandemic to continue producing life-saving materials and products that the healthcare industry and the consumers needed in response to COVID-19. However, the plastics industry lost jobs as the economy shut down. Based on PLASTICS’ estimate, the plastic materials and resin production sector employment decreased 3.5% while the plastics products manufacturing employment fell 3.2%. Although plastics machinery manufacturing saw a 1.7% increase in employment, molds of plastics manufacturing employment decreased 2.8%.

The pandemic has exacerbated the shortage of workers for the manufacturing sector. PLASTICS’ current forecast of job growth this year is dismal, starting with a 0.6% increase in plastic materials and resin production employment and a 0.2% increase in plastics machinery manufacturing. A 2.4% increase in plastics product manufacturing employment is projected and a 3.7% increase in molds for plastics employment this year. Whether or not job openings are filled remains primarily a function of supply. The gradual reopening of the economy thus far has been matched with slow hiring in the plastics industry. The lack of workers is one explanation of the supply chain shortages the economy is currently experiencing.

Workforce development is and will remain a dichotomous issue. It is national and macroeconomic in scope. But the approach to resolving it, particularly in the short run, is local or industry-focused. This also makes it a microeconomic issue. The PLASTICS industry is ready and willing to collaborate with other institutions to address the workforce development issue of our economy.

Professional Services

Security Industry Association
Ronald Hawkins, Director of Industry Relations

Security Industry Association members consistently identify workforce development as one of their top business challenges. In a survey this spring, 71% of respondents said hiring qualified entry-level employees is “difficult” or “very difficult,” while 65% gave those answers when asked about hiring and retaining qualified, experienced employees. Multiple factors contribute to this, including the rapid technological development of the industry – e.g., A.I., biometrics, drones and robotics, integration into a facility’s I.P. network, and the growing importance of cybersecurity in physical security – and the subsequent competition with other, often better known, tech sectors. Security integrators are having a particularly tough time finding technicians, but companies report difficulties filling a broad range of positions, even non-technical ones such as sales and operations. When asked which of several measures they have implemented to enhance recruitment and retention efforts, more than half of survey respondents cited pay increases, enhanced benefits, and education and training reimbursements.

As an association, SIA has made industry workforce development a priority by developing a college outreach program, which includes delivering presentations about the security technology sector to students as well as offering student and faculty memberships. In addition, SIA has partnered with the Electronic Security Association to launch the Foundation for Advancing Security Talent, a 501(c)(3) that promotes security technology careers and connects job seekers with security companies.

Key Stat: More than 70% of respondents to a Security Industry Association survey on workforce development said it is “difficult” or “very difficult” to identify and hire qualified entry-level employees.

International Franchise Association
Matt Haller, SVP, Government Relations & Public Affairs

Franchise small businesses across sectors including restaurants, hotels and lodging, gyms, personal services, and health care are increasingly facing labor shortages as the economy reopens, demand for their products and services rebounds, and we gradually return to “normal.” According to a recent IFA survey, more than 60 percent of franchise brands and local owners cannot find the labor to meet current demand.

Moreover, IFA members – both individual owners and franchise brands reporting what they’re hearing from their owners and their corporate-owned locations – continue to tell us of difficulties filling positions. While these difficulties are especially acute for entry-level positions, they are noticeably visible at manager-level positions and beyond. The narrative that Americans are refusing to re-enter the workforce for low-paid and low-skilled jobs is simply untrue at best and severely economically inaccurate at worst.

Franchises across all sectors and business lines are struggling to fill openings, despite using every tool at their disposal to attract prospective employees. They’re offering substantial signing bonuses, creating more flexible and same-day payment plans for work, raising starting wages for new and returning hires, and providing additional benefits like more PTO or fewer weekly shifts. But despite these efforts, the “Help Wanted” signs continue to multiply.

According to our members, several factors are coalescing to augment this challenge. These include fears of exposure to the virus in customer-facing roles (which are potentially worsened or at least unmoved due to lingering vaccine hesitancy), as well as the general availability of vaccines to all age groups in the labor force. However, time and again, the number one impediment cited is the challenge of competing with the government to recruit workers.

Key Stat: According to a recent IFA survey, more than 60 percent of franchise brands and local owners cannot find the labor to meet current demand.


Direct Selling Association
Ben Gamse, Director of Industry Insights

The direct selling channel has generally not had any recent issues finding qualified corporate employees. We’ve seen direct selling companies actively hire execs at leadership and manager levels with extensive experience in the channel and execs with broader retail experience outside the channel (e.g., CPG and DTC). Although manufacturing and supply chain hiring poses a modest challenge to some companies, recent survey research indicates this is not a widespread issue or currently a significant area of concern. (For example, 28% of companies in a recent survey indicated supply-chain-related staffing challenges).

Key Stat: In addition to the 10,000s of corporate executives that direct selling employees in the U.S., the channel provides entrepreneurial opportunities to 7.7 million American independent contractors that sell products and services. These direct sellers value the flexibility and ability to make a supplemental income that direct selling provides.


American Trucking Associations
Bob Costello, Chief Economist & SVP

We have always had a difficult time getting qualified truck drivers in our industry. However, it has become more difficult over the last year. For example, truck driver training schools trained far fewer new drivers last year due to the pandemic. This means that demand for drivers is outpacing supply even more than normal. And even if schools can increase capacity soon, it will take time to train enough drivers to overcome the current deficit.

Additionally, due to the lifestyle of many drivers being on the road for several days, sometimes weeks, before getting home, it has been difficult to get enough drivers during a pandemic. This has always put the trucking industry at a competitive disadvantage with other industries, despite good wages and benefits for truck drivers. We also hear from motor carriers that office staff has quit once the latest round of stimulus checks hit bank accounts.

Despite growing volumes in most trucking sectors, including e-commerce freight, job growth has been lackluster, indicating just how difficult it is to hire drivers and other occupations. Freight rates are going up, truck freight volumes are rising, but industry employment is down 1.2% year-to-date compared with the same period in 2020, according to the DOL. And while I realize total payrolls are down by more over the same period, total transportation and warehousing payrolls are actually up by 0.6% because of the strong demand throughout the industry. It is clear to us that trucking payrolls should be growing, but they are not, even with rapidly rising driver pay, because of the very tight labor market.

Key Stat: Freight rates are going up, truck freight volumes are rising, but industry employment is down 1.2% year-to-date compared with the same period in 2020, according to the DOL.

ADK Executive Search
Christine Santiago, Senior Human Resource Consultant

Airports Council International – North America
Liying Gu, Vice President, Economic Affairs and Research

In the area of leadership, we are challenged with finding leaders who have the business acumen specific to the airport/aviation industry and who are also able to lead a diverse workforce. Specific and emerging areas that are hardest to fill are executive-level positions in engineering, information technology, and cybersecurity. Diversity of the talent pool remains a challenge. As the airport and aviation sector rebounds from the COVID crisis, the greatest challenge is to rapidly respond to the need to replace the workforce that took early retirement, were laid off, or engaged in alternate employment (consulting or leaving the field). The lack of predictability as to how quickly domestic and international travel will rebound is a challenging metric when it comes to workforce planning.

Key Stat: The number one statistic that will drive our workforce needs is related to the reopening of domestic and international travel. Domestic travel will rebound first, but the return of international traffic is less predictable due to uneven COVID vaccine policies and availability in various market countries.