Employers across Arizona and the US are facing record labor shortages, and business leaders and chambers of commerce are urging state and national lawmakers to invest in new hiring initiatives to fill millions of jobs.
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In April, employers reported a record high of 9.3 million vacancies, said Neil Bradley, chief policy officer for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, speaking at the organization’s most recent summit, Workforce: A Call to Action. According to the US Bureau of Labor, Arizona had 160,000 to 180,000 vacancies in March.
“The problem is hurting Main Street retailers and the country’s largest employers in our largest cities,” Bradley said. “If companies don’t have enough employees, they are forced to turn down jobs and reduce the number of opening times.”
Nearly 5,400 business leaders from all states attended the summit this month to discuss labor shortages and workforce challenges, share solutions, and raise support for the Chamber’s new America Works Agenda initiative to address the “Talent Crisis”.
The initiative recommends federal and state policy changes in three areas to expand the workforce: train more Americans for in-demand jobs, remove labor barriers, and double the number of visas for legal immigrants.
US Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo was the keynote speaker on the government’s American Jobs Plan, which will fund 1 million apprenticeships in construction and digital apprenticeships in cybersecurity, software engineering, accounting and quality assurance.
America in a “talent crisis”
America faces a double dose of labor shortages and labor challenges, Bradley said. There are too many people out of work. And there are too many jobs without skilled workers to fill.
A recent nationwide survey of local chambers of commerce found that 90 percent are “difficult” for companies in their area to hire, and two-thirds said it was “very difficult,” Bradley said. Less than 1 percent said it was easy to fill vacancies.
Many industries are affected, including agriculture, education, manufacturing, healthcare, hospitality, computer software, and construction. A recent survey in the commercial construction industry shows that 85 percent of contractors have difficulty finding workers, he said. Of these, 34 percent had to reject their work.
“All of this slows the economy down. In fact, local chambers of commerce are twice as likely to say a labor shortage is holding back the economy as they say Covid is holding it back, “Bradley said.
Call on companies and stakeholders to gather for initiative
The summit is part of a new initiative by the US Chamber Foundation, called America Works, to mobilize industry and government to act quickly to address America’s “exacerbating labor shortage crisis.”
Managing directors, trade associations and chambers of commerce encourage their employees and members to call on state and federal legislators to include recommendations in the initiative. Here is a selection of recommendations in four key areas:
Educate American workers
• Financing and supporting employer and sector partnerships at the state and local level charged with building talent pipelines based on sought-after jobs and skills with their preferred training partners
• Doubling the ceiling for employment-related immigrant visas from 140,000 per year to 280,000, including seasonal agricultural workers and high-tech professionals
• Offer international students who graduate from US universities more opportunities to obtain an employment-related green card after graduation
• To improve and expand the opportunities for entrepreneurs to obtain permanent residence so that they can start their business here in the United States
• Create a new geographic visa program modeled on the Heartland Visa proposal that will fuel economic and population growth in American communities grappling with the serious economic and social problems caused by the significant population loss
education and training
• Increase in federal investment in employer-run vocational training and vocational training programs
• Expansion of Pell grants for employee training without loans
• Create “Skills Savings Accounts” to help employees and employers manage training costs and avoid new student debts
Breaking down labor barriers to alleviate labor shortages
• Expand access to affordable, quality childcare for working parents
• Improving second chance attitudes through public-private agreements to support employment opportunities for former detainees
• Removal of the restrictions on professional admission, which make entering a new area time-consuming and costly, and which limit mobility opportunities.
“We have to equip workers with the skills they need, we have to remove barriers that keep too many Americans on the sidelines, and we have to recruit the best from around the world to fill high-demand jobs,” said Suzanne Clark. President and CEO of the US Chamber, one of the keynote speakers at the summit.
For an analysis of the numbers behind the workforce crisis, see: The America Workforce: Quantifying the Nation’s Workforce Crisis. go to: America Works Agenda
This story was originally published on Chamber Business News.