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Opinion: Tips to connect with vanishing workforce

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In 2015, 32% of U.S. businesses had difficulty finding talent. In February 2020, 70% of businesses reported a talent shortage. Today, millions of jobs remain unfilled. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in October 2021 there were over 11 million Americans not working due to the pandemic.

Many potential workers remain unseen by commonly used recruiting processes. This may include individuals caring for children or older adults, people with mental health challenges and people previously incarcerated. There are unemployed and underemployed individuals eager to get a job or increase their working hours. There also are former employees missing from the workplace who are not currently working and not actively seeking work. These individuals could be convinced to reenter the workforce if presented with the right opportunities.

In this challenging environment, employers must rethink old strategies and practices to meet today’s demands. Consider these:

Applicant tracking systems. Many employers utilize these systems to help eliminate candidates based on predetermined factors. Of the Fortune 500 companies, 99% report using an ATS. Many systems look for gaps in employment and more than 50% surveyed weeded out resumes with gaps of over six months. Businesses should carefully review and reconsider criteria used to filter out potential candidates.

Drug testing. According to labor law firm Ogletree Deakins’ April 2022 benchmarking survey, almost 16% of respondents have eliminated preemployment drug testing to help with recruiting and hiring challenges and more than 17% had eliminated or relaxed background check requirements.

Flexibility. According to a recent survey by The Conference Board, higher wages and great benefits will only take you so far. Flexible work location was the most desired aspect of a new job.

Targeted, candidate-centric recruiting. Take a hard look at recruiting processes. Refresh job descriptions, develop a plan that pinpoints your ideal candidate, reduce requirements and cast a wide net using networking, jobs boards, professional associations, college connections, university faculty, social media, referral sources, centers of influence and passive candidates. Identify segments of unseen workers best suited for your organization. On jobs boards, widen the geographic search, remove specialty requirements and consider including salary information. Also, offer training and professional development opportunities.

Train managers. According to an interview study by leadership consultant DDI, less than 27% of hiring managers were trained in selecting talent. And 47% state they spend less than 30 minutes with a candidate; 56% say they make hiring decisions based on their instincts rather than information from the interview; and 64% worry they’re missing data on weaknesses that will show up later after the hire.

Consider older workers. According to the Federal Reserve of Kansas City, the increase in the number of retirees since February 2020 includes millions of workers who might be willing to return to the workplace as the pandemic subsides.

Find your secret weapon. Identify what makes your workplace unique and desirable. Share this in recruiting efforts and interviews. Help candidates envision what it is like to work in your organization and determine whether there is motivational fit between what they desire in an employer/position and how you can meet those needs.

Engagement strategies to retain talent. After the investment of time and resources to find and hire candidates, utilize a strong onboarding process to ensure a quality start. Utilize meaningful employee engagement strategies to retain talent. Here are five examples that could be part of an employee engagement initiative.

  1. Rewards and recognition. Implement a social recognition platform in addition to other recognition strategies.
  2. Life/work balance. Expanding flexible work arrangements, hosting social events midday and doing early-release afternoons enables more time with family and friends.
  3. Community service. Creating a volunteer time off benefit is a great way to continue commitments to nonprofits and support local needs at the holidays.
  4. Career progression. Think about implementing a formal compensation structure and hosting financial wellness educational seminars.
  5. Communication. Focus on clear, open and frequent communication, such as distributing weekly management meeting notes.

As employers navigate this challenging environment, it will be helpful to redefine the ideal hire. This includes revisiting job requirements and credentials, prioritizing core competencies required for success in the position, training for missing technical skills and filling the gaps in education.

Karen Shannon is vice president of business consulting at Ollis/Akers/Arney. She can be reached at


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