How employers struggling to fill positions can win the war for talent


“We don’t get any qualified candidates for our managerial position,” the business owner told me. “We posted it on all standard job boards. Should we be offering a signing bonus? “

“Is your compensation competitive? “

“We pay as much as we can. “

“Do you have an employee that you can promote to management? “

“Not a strong enough one. If we cannot find a suitable candidate, we will have to reduce our hours of operation.

Over the past three months, several dozen employers and HR managers have called me with similar stories of good jobs going vacant without enough strong candidates to fill them.

The problem

At the end of summer 2021, the number of employees in the labor force, 4.2 million, was lower than it was before the start of the pandemic. At the time, 10.9 million vacancies were in existence, the highest on record (HRMorning, Winter 2021). According to the National Federation of Independent Businesses and the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, about half of all employers cannot fill their vacancies.

The problem is intense for employers trying to fill entry-level positions, with 93% reporting difficulties. In addition, the number of employees leaving their jobs each month continues to break records. Some of these former employees started their own businesses or made the transition to the odd-job economy, never to return as viable job candidates.

This gap in the supply of talent alters the balance of power between employers and employees. Job applicants have options and expect more from potential employers. Many receive multiple offers. Armed with their bargaining position, these candidates are unwilling to make the compromises and sacrifices they previously made to get and keep a job. Businesses facing labor shortages made worse by a growing number of employees sick with COVID have reduced their hours or even shut down.

Here is what I told employers who called me.

Immediately review your compensation plan. If it’s not competitive, you won’t be able to hire the talent you need or keep the employees you have. Compensation, however, is just a starting point.

Then develop a compelling employee value proposition to attract new employees and retain existing employees. What do you offer that makes you an employer of choice? Does your organization have an inspiring vision and purpose? Does the culture of your organization have a real appeal?

Give yourself significant benefits to your employees, whether they are remote working options; career development opportunities; allowances for home office or remote technology; an internal career path; autonomy; benefits for mental health and well-being; strong leave policies; or a debt-free education? Can you provide employees with flexible work options so that they can integrate their jobs into the rest of their lives? Do you proactively respond to employee safety concerns?

If you realize that you are not currently offering compelling benefits, select one or more new benefits to incorporate into your organization, as other employers, competing for the talent you seek, are and will. If you already offer compelling benefits, make sure potential employees take notice.

According to the 2019 LinkedIn Workplace Learning report, “94% of employees say they would stay with a company longer if the organization invested in helping them learn. By developing your employees, you also allow your organization to say ‘yes’ the next time someone asks,’ Do you have employees that you can promote to leadership positions? “

Amazon, Chipotle, Starbucks, and Target are giving employees a better future by providing training and education. Walmart pays 100 percent of the tuition fees for employees earning college degrees. Chipotle covers all expenses for employees pursuing multiple degrees, allowing them to advance to restaurant management positions in less than four years.

Expand your recruiting efforts beyond job boards. Current employees provide you with your best recruiting network available; can you get them to announce openings to their friends? Can you inspire former employees or retirees to come back, perhaps by offering them part-time or work-from-home options, job sharing, or increased flexibility. Consider recruiting through churches and other professional organizations or by partnering with community colleges and vocational centers.

When you receive qualified candidates, act quickly before other employers hire them.

Signing bonuses attract applicants. The disadvantages: many. Applicants who want signing bonuses may have an appetite for cash rewards and therefore leave without continuing bonus opportunities. Some employees only stay a short time after receiving their bonus and then look for other jobs to grab multiple signing bonuses. Claiming bonuses from employees who leave prematurely can be a legal nightmare. Current employees are asking “where is mine?” Demanding that you provide them with monetary rewards for staying.

What does it take to win the war for talent? Many. Can you rise to the challenge? Absoutely.


Lynne Curry writes a weekly column on workplace issues. She is President of Communication Works Inc. Send her your questions here.


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