The Day the Data Died
Labor Data is in Flux Due to COVID-19
As I continue to work from my home office, I am reminded of how my life, and frankly the world, has changed over the past few weeks. My calendar as gone from face-to-face business meetings, family events and group cycling rides to a virtual life via ZOOM. On Saturday night my wife and I participated in a neighborhood Yahtzee game on ZOOM, and on Sunday we attended Church via the internet for the third week in a row. Certainly, this crisis has changed the way we interact with others; some good and some bad.
Alarming statements are being made daily from experts across the country. For example, the Surgeon General of the United States, Dr. Jerome Adams was recently quoted as saying, “this is our Pearl Harbor moment” and “it’s going to be the hardest moment for many Americans in their entire lives”. Some economists are predicting as much as a 40% decline in the US economy while others indicate that recent stimulus packages will result in the US debt eclipsing $30 Trillion. In the midst of all of this, studies show that a majority of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck and many families lack the funds to cover a $2,000 expense. So how do we help our communities?
During the initial weeks of the COVID-19 crisis, the mission for most EDO’s was singular; support your businesses. The first goal was to make businesses aware of the programs available to assist them and help them gain access to these funding sources. Many EDO’s were tracking the daily revisions to the current programs as well as monitoring pending legislation. Many EDO’s created a COVID-19 page on their website as a one-stop source for information and began sharing this information via email, social media and webinars. The information ranged from CDC guidelines to assist employers with creating safe work environments to providing information as well as one on one counseling regarding the multiple funding sources created by the various stimulus packages.
One thing quickly became evident, a crisis of this magnitude has a way of highlighting weaknesses. It was clear that change would require innovative partnerships as well as motivated leadership; and it is incumbent upon all of us to do our part. What will the backside of this crisis look like? How can we prepare now for this paradigm shift? What will this look like for our employers? Will all of our small businesses survive? What are the appropriate roles for our federal, state and local governments in this recovery?
To that end, savvy EDO’s began surveying their employers to determine what needs they have identified, both now and in the future. What roles did they see for the EDO and their State Department of Economic Development? What resources and programs would be needed to assist them both now and, in the months, to come?
One challenge facing employers is that current labor data is in flux given the impact of the pandemic. In fact, one could argue that, while extremely important from a funding perspective, even the current census data will be skewed by the crisis. What is the outlook for a full recovery? A partial recovery? What is the Labor Market outlook?
In 2017 I wrote a blog entitled, “This Isn’t Your Grandpa’s Workforce”. In this blog I discussed the speed at which the workforce was changing and the need to identify and better understand workforce dynamics. Workforce Development is experiencing a complete paradigm shift now that the workforce includes five generations of workers. It is incumbent upon EDO’s, communities and employers to understand workforce considerations, decision factors and motivating factors. In other words, what motivates this new diverse labor pool to choose a particular job; compensation, benefits, flex time, wellness programs, paid time off etc. How can companies capitalize on these characteristics to be in a position to hire the best quality applicants and ensure a steady source of qualified workers for the future? How can companies attract and retain good quality employees both now and in the future?
I provided the premise that EDO’s, communities and employers may have been at an important crossroads with regard to workforce development and talent attraction. Certainly, that premise is amplified today given the current impact of COVID-19.
One side note for your consideration. During this current COVID-19 crisis, employees and perspective employees have been paying close attention to how employers are treating their employees. With the instant platform of social media, employees can make known their concerns as well as praises for the world to hear.
Are employers following CDC guidelines in an effort to provide the safest work environment possible? Are employers allowing non-essential employees to work from home in accordance with federal, state and local level Stay-at-Home orders? Are they making investment in their employees to train them on the COVID-19 best practices? Are employers who need to scale back their workforce during these challenging times taking advantage of Shred Work Programs to provide some working hours to their employees? If they are forced to close, are they engaging rapid response teams to help employees file for unemployment benefits and seek re-training opportunities to assist them in re-joining the workforce?
What can we do to prepare for the backside of this pandemic? What is the workforce outlook?
In 2014, I wrote a blog entitled, “We can’t forget the Underemployed… Can we?” In this blog, I posed the following questions; how could your economic development efforts be enhanced if you were able to quantify the following information for your existing and prospective employers: What portion of the labor force (underemployed, unemployed, homemaker, student or retired) would seriously consider applying for a new employment opportunity? What concerns would influence their decision? (Pay, benefits, commuting distance) What skills, certifications and educational attainment do the underemployed in your labor shed possess? In other words, are you prepared to answer the most important questions regarding your workforce; What is it? Where is it? At what cost? And in what quantities? Can you demonstrate that you have the right employees with the right skills at the right price? If so, success is just a project away.
I believe it will be critical for EDO’s and communities to be able to help their existing employers answer the most important workforce questions in an effort to navigate the uncertainty of the post COVID-19 times; What is it? Where is it? At what cost? And in what quantities? In other words, can you demonstrate that you have the right employees with the right skills at the right price?
Given the unprecedented impact of the COVID-19 virus on the worldwide economy and more specifically the workforce; and since secondary public/private databases typically lag real time from 18-36 months, how can we find accurate data for data driven decision making?
Today more than ever, workforce development is driven by data. Further, workforce development is dependent on a community’s ability to quantify labor availability, quality and cost. Company decision makers must be comfortable with the community’s ability to meet the current labor demands as well as provide a sustainable source of qualified workers for the future. Ensuring your Area Labor Market has the right employees with the right skills at the right price will lead to success in attracting new business investment as well as retaining your current employers. Possessing an up-to-date third-party labor survey that quantifies these important decision factors can be your competitive advantage.
Corey J Mehaffy, CEO
Workforce Intelligence for Growing Business
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