The labor market is simply not what it once was, and if businesses are going to succeed, they will need to figure out how to recruit and retain the best employees.
For nearly a decade, employers got away with considering many employees as disposable during a sluggish economic recovery from the Great Recession of 2008. The unemployment rate was high enough and the labor market large enough that there were enough people looking for work that the balance of power largely favored the employers.
That's one reason that, generally, workers' wages remained largely flat even as business profits increased.
But that balance is swinging the other way now as the economy enters a record stretch for steady expansion.
Numbers released last month by the Kentucky Labor Force estimated the state's annual unemployment rate was 4.3 percent in 2018, more than half a point lower than the previous year. That's because while the labor market actually increased between 2017 and 2018, the number of jobs that needed filling grew faster than people looking for work.
So what does all that mean? One lesson to take away is that the local pool of workers is barely keeping up with the jobs that business owners need to fill.
Another takeaway would be for employers to realize they might have to do something different to attract workers. Posting ads for workers and traditional job fairs are still important. But recruiters need to be open to other resources.
Take, for example, the Community Connect program recently organized by area schools and the Bardstown-Nelson County Chamber of Commerce.
It was a sort of job fair in reverse. Instead of businesses setting up and workers presenting themselves to the employers, it was the workers who set up presentations of their skills and the businesses who went around to see what was on offer.
"It was eye-opening to see some of the things the kids were doing," Toby Lewis, financial adviser and co-owner of Thoroughbred Asset Management, told The Standard. "We really need to invest in our community to excavate the talents of our kids" and build an employable and skilled workforce, he said.
That brings up another point -- businesses might need to put some of their own skin into the game. In recent years the catch phrase in Kentucky's public education system has been "career ready." But public education is only a foundation, and successfully completing secondary education should instill some qualities employers are looking for. But our high schools are not training grounds for specific employers, nor should they be.
Businesses need to invest their own time and money into training their workers. If they put those efforts and resources into their workers, perhaps those workers will appreciate being valued, management will view them as more than disposable commodities and productivity and wages can grow together.
It's a brave new work world out there. Over the past decade or so, it has been workers who have had to adapt in order to be successful. Now, it seems it is employers who are needing to evolve.
-- The Kentucky Standard