The unemployment rate in my county is 2.2%. The unemployment rate in all the counties around me are 2.0% or less. (1) The population of my county is projected to drop by 0.4% by 2040, the employable part of the population will drop by 0.3% in that same time frame. (2)
The story isn’t unique to Minnesota, I read articles originating from all over the United State saying the same thing; we are experiencing a coworker shortage.
Every business owner and general manager I talk to says the same thing. They cannot find new coworkers, at ANY level on the skills chain. Granted, finding an experienced engineer, IT person, materials specialist, or production scheduler that is capable and fits your culture has always been a process. Now finding even entry level, never been in manufacturing, not familiar with the commodity whether it be plastics, electronics, metals or packaging, is getting even more difficult than the any other search. What’s left is for employers to lure coworkers from each other, not solving the problem, just making it a complex game of musical chairs.
I applaud the efforts to start working with the less accessed fringes of society like formerly or soon to be released incarcerated. It should have happened long ago, but necessity is the mother of invention. This may help to inject a few bodies into the system.
We are now, FINALLY, telling kids that it is ok to go to trade school, 2 year vocational programs or even straight to work and learn on-the-job! That still doesn’t help fill the gap as stated earlier, my population numbers are still diminishing.
Never-the-less, what we need is governmental leadership to tackle the three main components of barriers to adding coworkers to any region.
- A demand for affordable and diversified housing
- Facilitating workforce access for potential coworkers, primarily:
- Better access to child care
- Higher wages (Yes, an employer issue, one PlastiCert has been correcting for years. Our wages have increased at nearly twice the regional rate.)
- Increasing demand for a regional transportation systems
- Growing the overall labor supply through new immigration
All of these have to be assessed and improved in parallel with the others. Fixing any one or two of them without the others does marginal help.
Disregarding the ongoing threat of trade wars, without coworkers this country’s economy WILL come crashing down.
(1) MN DEED County Unemployment Rates September 2018
(2) Southeastern MN League of Municipalities – Southeast Minnesota Regional Economic Study, Oct 2018