Labor shortage was 20 years in the making



  • Help wanted sign for the new Mariano's Fresh Market under construction in Vernon Hills. Businesses are increasingly seeking help.

      Help wanted sign for the new Mariano's Fresh Market under construction in Vernon Hills. Businesses are increasingly seeking help. Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

By Jim Morgan
Updated 6/17/2021 8:47 AM

Where Have All the People Gone? The "Sansdemic" Is Upon Us!

First time I remember a labor shortage was in 1989, but it was mostly projections. First time I heard of a skills shortage was in the 1990s, and seeing the overwhelming number of "Help Wanted" signs in manufacturing facilities.


First time it got scary was when the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Applied Population Lab published "Wisconsin's Future Population: Projections for the State, Its Counties and Municipalities, 2010-2040," and it became a body shortage. And now, it's a "sansdemic" ... no people! A demographer shared this piece of wisdom with me: "Someone who is born today, in 20 years, will be 20 years old!" Let that sink in. Pure genius.

The point: we (read upper Midwest) have known this body shortage was coming. Yet, even with a 20-year warning, we are shocked, shocked! I have been following this talent supply chain for the past 30 years. It has become a passion of mine, but this sansdemic* is going to be a whole new ballgame.

Where and how we recruit, how we use AI, how we do more with less (people), using cognitive computing, how we fit lifestyle and work together, how we reinvent the candidate and employee experience, basically, how we change ... EVERYTHING!

However, all hope is not lost. There are a number of areas that organizations can address right away:

Remote work

In today's work culture, this must be a significant consideration for organizations from a recruitment and retention aspect. As we all know, retention and retaining will continue to be key concerns in the workforce.

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According to MRA's 2021 Turnover Survey, organizations reported that executive (61%), leadership (66%), professional (57%) and technical (69%) roles are harder to recruit. Results also showed that technical (31%) and service (29%) jobs have not been easy to retain this year.

It is almost a guarantee that a new employee will ask about remote options (except for jobs on the manufacturing floor) during the interviewing process. Offering remote work, as an option, may go a long way to earn more interested recruits and reduce turnover.

Remote work, this past year, also has affected employee engagement and satisfaction, which are key values of retention.

Total rewards package

At MRA we stress that employers need to understand the value of their total rewards package to remain competitive. A competitive total rewards package helps with overall employee satisfaction, engagement and commitment. Total rewards consist of base pay, stock options, health insurance, dental and vision benefits, retirement contributions, life insurance, paid time off and more.

Throughout the pandemic, there's been an opportunity for organizations to rethink or even revamp their compensation philosophy. Compensation is one tactic that organizations are using to keep and retain consistent and high performers.


Understanding your employees -- i.e., younger people value take-home pay, parents value health care, older employees are looking at the "Medigap" -- will go a long way toward being a preferred employer.


Another key for employee retention is recognition. Hard work should be rewarded, though it does not have to be rewarded only through merit and pay increases. Flexible work policies, professional development opportunities, and ongoing career discussions can also drive engagement. Companies are offering Amazon Prime memberships and Netflix subscriptions as new ways of recognizing employees.

As we continue to move through COVID-19 challenges that have come as a result of the pandemic and also now face a talent sansdemic, companies will need to continue to be flexible and creative in all their offerings. Stay tuned; it is going to be a bumpy, exciting ride.

*Sansdemic is a term originally coined by Emsi, a leading labor data company.

• Jim Morgan is Vice President, Business Development & Workforce Strategies at MRA -- The Management Association. MRA is one of the largest employer associations in the nation, providing resources to 4,000 businesses annually to help them thrive. For more info go to

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