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What Does the Great Worker Shortage Mean for You?
What Does the Great Worker Shortage Mean for You?

You’ve likely heard that there’s a worker shortage currently impacting the economy. Employers are complaining about it. Employees are buzzing about it. And news anchors can’t stop speculating about it.

So, how does this tightening of the labor market affect you, personally? Does it mean it’s an opportune time to look for a new role if you’re not thrilled with your current position? Or give you the leverage to at least ask for a raise if you’re reasonably happy with where you’re working now? As a career coach, I’ve had many professionals asking me these questions lately, so let’s discuss the great worker shortage and what today’s worker-friendly hiring conditions mean for you.

Remember, Not All Industries Are Impacted Equally

For starters, let’s be clear that the dramatic shortage of available workers isn’t happening across the board. It’s primarily happening within service sector industries such as retail, restaurants and ridesharing. The light industrial and manufacturing space have also been impacted. In other words, the businesses most in need of workers rely on a steady stream of folks to work at or near the minimum wage.

Many companies that rely on hourly workers have “help wanted” signs in their windows right now. And many of these employers are offering exorbitant incentives, benefits and signing bonuses to find and attract new staff.

Options Abound for Gig or Hourly Workers

So, if you’re seeking a temporary role, gig assignment or second job to make a bit of extra money, the world should be your oyster right now. I’ve had numerous businesses hit me up as a total stranger asking if I was looking for work or knew anybody on the hunt. I’ve also seen companies offering thousands of dollars in signing bonuses to new hires and paying over 200% of what a job might have paid in a “normal” economy just a year or two ago.

Additionally, I’ve been pleased to see that many larger companies have taken this opportunity to raise the bar permanently on the incentives they offer. For example, I think it’s a great thing that Amazon and Target have now announced that they’ll be paying full college tuition for their hourly workers who meet certain requirements.

Higher-Level Professionals Can Make a Switch Too

For professionals working in higher-level roles or a six-figure capacity, it’s a bit of a different story. The job market isn’t quite as crazy, shooting-fish-in-a-barrel good as it is for lower-level positions. Still, there’s no question that conditions are generally positive. So, if you’ve been thinking about making a move for a while, this could still be a great time to dust off your resume and give it a go.

I’ve had several friends and clients who recently decided to leave Microsoft after 20+ years of working there. I know other folks who have been at places like Boeing, Starbucks and Nordstrom for decades and who’ve finally decided to test the waters and try to capitalize on current market conditions.

Generally, they’ve had a lot of success. While it’s still too soon to say whether all these transitions will turn out to be smart moves in the long run, folks generally seem to be getting lots of traction and are pleased to find their skills a lot more marketable than the last time they stuck their heads up and looked around.

Explore Advancement and Pay Increases With Your Current Employer

What if you’re fairly content with your current job and aren’t eager to seek out a new organization? Is there a way you could sweeten the pot and capitalize on current economic conditions? It’s worth considering.

The goal isn’t to extort your employer. Labor shortage or not, no owner or boss is infinitely accommodating. However, if you feel you’ve been a loyal worker and outperforming your expectations, it might be a great time to diplomatically ask your supervisor if they’d have time to sit down and discuss the future of your role. And some potential enhancements to your compensation package.

In such a meeting, it’s usually wise to show some initiative. Outline your future career aspirations and ask your supervisor if there are any new responsibilities you can take on to help the company get by while it’s understaffed. Or you might ask whether the company would be open to letting you work 100% remote or on a hybrid basis if you’re not already. If there was ever a time when a company might grant this request, it’s now. You can ask for a raise, too, if you feel such a request is warranted.

My only word of caution when asking for these extra benefits is not to be too heavy-handed about directly citing the labor shortage. While you likely have a bit of extra leverage due to the economy, if your requests come across as any kind of a threat, the outcome might not work out in your favor.

Don’t Sell Yourself Short if You’re a Happy Camper, Career-Wise

Even if you’re perfectly content in your current role, it still makes sense to deploy a few passive job search elements just to keep your options open and test your worth in the market. For example, it’s always a good idea to keep your LinkedIn profile up to date in terms of keywords, education and experience. Having a current profile can lead to occasional inbound hits from recruiters and it’s possible a job that’s too good to pass up could fall into your lap.

Additionally, I recommend you always have a weekly job search alert running on sites like Indeed.com and LinkedIn. Checking out current postings allows you to keep tabs on developments in your field and the skills, strengths and credentials that are growing in demand.

However, if you’re already in a great career situation, there’s no compelling need to make a change just for the sake of it. Despite all the forces impacting the market right now, I wouldn’t recommend you walk away from an excellent job on a whim—or just because you can.

Other Advice for Job Seekers in the Current Climate

My final piece of advice on how you should respond to the employee-friendly dynamics we’re experiencing? Don’t be a jerk. Don’t burn bridges. And don’t let your extra leverage lead you down the path to unprofessional behavior.

As the old saying goes, what goes around comes around. If you hold your employer over a barrel or engage in unethical behavior such as “ghosting” employers on interviews, walking out on shifts or quitting a job immediately when a better one comes along, you could end up having these actions reflect poorly on you down the road.

Employers and recruiters have long memories, and well-tended databases, regarding candidates who leave them in the lurch. And if you’re working in a small community or tightknit industry, word can quickly get around that you engaged in conduct unbecoming during this period — and that can bite you in the rear during future job search efforts!


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Matt Youngquist

Guest writer Matt Youngquist is a recognized career coaching expert and LinkedIn trainer in the greater Seattle area. He’s the founder and president of Career Horizons, where he helps clients across the Pacific Northwest tackle the challenges of job hunting and employment transition.

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