Consumer Trends Update: Help Wanted?

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help wanted sign

The unemployment rate is currently high, yet “Help Wanted” signs are being seen in foodservice and food retail businesses across the country, with employers finding it difficult to fill positions. According to a survey of 1,200 employers conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM):

  • ~90% of employers struggled to fill open positions over the summer.
  • 73% saw a decrease in applications.
  • ~50% said more applicants than usual failed to reply to a request for an interview.

Yet – there are there were 9.5 million people classified as unemployed who are looking for work.

So why the discrepancy? In its poll of 1,000 unemployed Americans who were laid off or left their jobs during the pandemic, SHRM found:

  • 42% said they did not receive any responses to jobs for which they've applied.
  • 32% were afraid of being exposed to COVID-19. 
  • 29% were offered less pay than their previous job.
  • 17% were preparing for a career shift. 
  • 11% said they could be more selective in jobs because of the expanded unemployment benefits.
  • 9% said they earned more through unemployment benefits than they would with a job.

While the pandemic exacerbated the hiring issues, the worker shortage did not start then. According to a report from The Conference Board, the unemployment rate had fallen to 3.5% in November 2019, with the most critical shortages among blue-collar and manual-services businesses that were struggling to fill positions. In fact, based on a survey by the Board, 85% of companies in “mostly blue-collar industries” reported recruiting difficulties. Even at that time, the report noted that “if not addressed, the problem could get worse,” and “if left unchecked, today’s conditions could easily develop into one of the worst labor shortages of the last 50 years.”

So what can you do to attract workers? To be competitive, you may want to consider what others are doing. That is, according to SHRM, many businesses are offering incentives that have been rarely seen for low-wage jobs:

  • 57% are offering referral bonuses.
  • 55% are hiring external or temporary workers.
  • 44% are upskilling and reskilling staff.
  • 43% are boosting pay.

The report also advocates the use of multiple recruitment strategies, such as adding or modifying employee referral programs, contracting with staffing firms, using technology to streamline recruitment and target candidates, and shortening the process with fewer interviews and faster decision-making.


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