Societal phenomenonWhere have the workers gone?: “There is a shortage of labor everywhere”
Plumbers in Germany, postmen in the United States, engineers in Australia, nurses in Canada, masons in France… Everywhere, labor needs have picked up sharply since the pandemic. But the arms are missing.
CEO of the German SME Currentsystem23 specializing in software, in eastern Germany, Michael Blume confides to AFP that he “clearly has a lot of difficulty finding employees”. “Wherever you look, there is a shortage of skilled labor everywhere,” continues this entrepreneur, pointing to training problems in Germany where 887,000 jobs were waiting to be filled in August, both in the social or construction than in computing.
The American figures are even more dizzying in a country where the signs “We are hiring!” abound in front of restaurants or buses: more than eleven million positions were vacant at the end of July for almost half as many workers available. “Companies continue to say in global opinion polls that it is very difficult to hire” since the pandemic, notes Ariane Curtis, economist in Toronto for the firm Capital Economics.
It points to acute difficulties among the countries of Western Europe, North America but also in Eastern Europe, Turkey and Latin America. According to an OECD report from July, tensions over job vacancies increased significantly at the end of 2021 in the United States, Great Britain, Australia and Canada compared to the pre-pandemic period.
At a time when the world economy is already slowing down under the effect of the war in Ukraine, the shortages of workers are all the more worrying as they affect sectors as varied as teachers in Texas, the hotel and catering industry in Italy or health workers in Canada.
Closures for lack of staff
They also lead to a destabilization of the functioning of many companies: pharmacies in Wisconsin have to close at certain times for lack of pharmacists, care units in Canadian hospitals in Alberta for lack of doctors and restaurants on the Australian “Sunshine Coast”, near Brisbane, for lack of servers, the local press recently reported.
White-collar trades are also experiencing the dip. “Before, the hardest part was finding corporate clients. From now on, it is the candidates, ”says Clément Verrier, who co-directs a Parisian recruitment firm specializing in senior executives. His industry “is facing an unprecedented number of candidates who disappear in the middle of the recruitment process, without even calling back”, he adds.
Employers struggle to adapt to new worker priorities
Already at work due to the progressive aging of populations, worker shortages have suddenly flared up with the Covid-19. There are many sources: early retirement, long covid, salaries that are too low, working conditions that are too difficult, professional reorientations in the name of a quest for meaning, drastic drop in immigration due to confinements, moves outside the major cities providing jobs… Never in modern history has an event so affected the very notion of work.
“The pandemic has caused a fundamental change in the mindset and priorities of workers”, analyzes Bonnie Dowling, partner at the consulting firm McKinsey who conducted a study on the waves of resignations in several regions of the world. However, for the time being, “employers are not going at the same speed as these changes”.
Telework becomes a prerequisite
Companies are trying measures to attract or retain employees, starting with wage increases, which vary from one sector to another. Teleworking is becoming a prerequisite in many professions, which have also seen the emergence of initiatives such as “bonus” leave or time granted for a personal cause. “You have to deploy treasures of imagination” in order to seduce candidates, notes the Parisian recruiter Clément Verrier.
A major issue, immigration is also popular in a growing number of states, whether Australia, Spain, which relaxed its rules for regularizing undocumented migrants in the summer, or the Germany which plans to ease the conditions for granting visas. “The big question is whether what we’ve been seeing for months will calm down or not,” says Mike Smith, head of international recruitment expert Randstad Sourceright in the Netherlands. “We don’t think it’s a temporary change,” he said. This will require companies and States to adapt more to the new situation.