Saturday, February 20, 2010


In many parts of the United States today, significant workforce shortages exist due to an inadequate supply of workers with the skills needed to perform the jobs being added. In the last several years news reports have regularly described tight labor markets with unemployment rates in some locales below 3%. Also, continuously there are reports by industries and companies facing shortages of qualified, experienced workers. Jobs with extreme supply shortages for several years have included specialized information systems technicians, physical therapists, plumbers, air conditioning repair technicians, and many others. Consequently, HR professionals have faced greater pressures to recruit and train workers.
Many occupational groups and industries will require more educated workers in the coming years. The number of jobs requiring advanced knowledge is expected to grow at a much more rapid rate than the number of other jobs. This growth means that people without high school diplomas or appropriate college degrees increasingly will be at a disadvantage, as their employment opportunities are confined to the lowest-paying service jobs. In short, there is a growing gap between the knowledge and skills required by many jobs and those possessed by employees and applicants. Several different studies and projections all point to the likelihood that employers in many industries will have difficulties obtaining sufficiently educated and trained workers.
Estimates are that about half of the U.S. workforce (about 50 million workers)
needs or will need new or enhanced workplace training to adapt to the myriad
job and technological changes that are occurring. At the same time, many individuals who are obtaining higher education degrees are doing so in nontechnical or nonscientific fields rather than engineering or computer sciences, where the greatest gap between job growth and worker supply exists. On the lower end, far too many students graduating from U.S. high schools lack the basic mathematical, reasoning, and writing skills needed for many jobs. Unless major efforts are made to improve educational systems, especially those
serving minorities, employers will be unable to find enough qualified workers for the growing number of “knowledge jobs.” A number of employers are addressing the deficiencies that many employees have in basic literacy and mathematical skills by administering basic skills assessments to employees. Then they conduct basic mathematics and English skills training classes at workplace sites for employees with deficiencies. Some employers also sponsor programs for employees and their family members to aid them in obtaining general equivalency diplomas.
To address the skills deficiencies, HR management must do the following:
-Assess more accurately the knowledge and skills of existing employees, as well as the knowledge and skills needed for specific jobs.
-Make training for future jobs and skills available for employees at all levels, not just managers and professionals.
-Increase the usage of new training methods, such as interactive videos, individualized computer training, and via the Internet.
-Become active partners with public school systems to aid in upgrading the knowledge and skills of high school graduates.
In the past, temporary workers were used for vacation relief, maternity leave, or workload peaks. Today “contingent workers” (temporary workers, independent contractors, leased employees, and parttimers) represent over 20% of the workforce. Many employers operate with a core group of regular employees with critical skills and then expand and contract the workforce through the use of contingent workers.
This practice requires determining staffing needs and deciding in advance
which employees or positions should form the “core” and which should be more
fluid. At one large firm, about 10% of the workforce is contingent now.
The company sees using contingent employees as a way to stabilize the workforce. Instead
of hiring regular workers when work piles up and then firing them when the work is finished, the company relies more on temporary workers and independent contractors.
Productivity is measured in output per hour. Thus, if employees are paid only when they are working (as contingents are), overall productivity increases. Another reason for the growth in contingent workers is the reduced legal liability faced by employers. As more and more employment-related lawsuits have been filed, some employers have become more wary about adding employees. Instead, by using contract workers supplied by others, they face fewer employment legal issues regarding selection, discrimination, benefits, discipline, and termination.

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