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Why is it So Hard to Find Essential Workers These Days?

Since the spring of 2020, the world learned how important front-line workers are. Grocery stores, delivery services, truck drivers, warehouse fulfillment associates, restaurant workers and more were categorized as essential. It makes sense; without these crucial roles being filled, our world would come to a standstill.

Last week, I received an email from a large online retailer offering me a $1,000 bonus to be a Reliability Maintenance Engineer, and their offer said I could be hired on the spot. It also highlighted other perks, like wearing jeans and tennis shoes to work and flexible hours.

While I’m very happy at Talroo, and don’t think I’d be particularly good as a Reliability Maintenance Engineer, the email reminded me of the broader problem in the U.S. job market today. It has become increasingly difficult for large-scale employers across a whole swath of sectors that we consider essential – fulfillment and distribution, logistics, healthcare, restaurants, groceries, manufacturing, customer services and financial services to name a few – in finding the right workers for the right jobs.

Economic Impact on Employers

Just as these businesses have made it through the pandemic in one piece in the worst downturn in recent history, they are now experiencing an incredible increase in demand and new available market opportunities – but they are being thwarted by the lack of supply, in this case, available workers to fill their positions that would help drive additional sales.

This will have an effect on the whole U.S. economy. Without the human capital to expand their businesses, business owners are having to turn down or delay orders, close early and ultimately hamper revenue-creating opportunities, expansions, investment and much more.

Tight labor markets also tend to result in higher wages and inflation – something the Federal Reserve, is no doubt, monitoring closely.

Of course, it’s not all doom and gloom. There has been a clear boost in post-pandemic job growth with payrolls increasing by 916,000 in March 2021, for example, but the fact remains that all available openings are not being filled. We’ve seen more sign-on bonuses being offered more than ever before. Businesses are so desperate to hire, their job ads read “show up and we’ll train you” or “all you need to do is wear jeans and closed-toe shoes.” Companies are offering to pay or subsidize PPE, training classes or simply train on the job for months. According to a March 2021 survey by the National Federation of Independent Businesses, 91% of respondents reported few or no qualified applications for the positions they needed to fill.

Why is it so difficult to find essential workers? What can we do to address this?

Identifying the Hidden Workforce

First, it’s important to note that the figures don’t indicate that the economy and the labor market are not facing a supply-demand issue. While the easing of lockdowns and the federal stimulus has boosted demand and consumer spending, unemployment (supply) still remains well over pre-pandemic levels (according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics it was 5.9% in June 2021).

Who are these hidden workers (as was described in a December 2020 article in Harvard Business Review), and why are employers finding it so difficult to identify them and encourage them to transition back into employment?

Incentivized against work

One of the reasons that people seem reluctant to enter the workforce is COVID-19 itself. Businesses on the frontline, such as restaurants, retail and health, are particularly likely to be affected by this. Another possible reason is the unemployment benefits increased by the Biden stimulus (an additional $300 a week), as well the one-off payments both in 2020 and 2021.

In higher-paying states, benefits can be up to $600 per week with a number of potential employees now earning more through benefits than they did in their previous jobs. However, a number of state governors have already cut off this federal aid, and the whole program is due to end by September.

Childcare concerns

In addition, many potential employees are struggling to find childcare as many businesses have reopened during school vacation time. Or, the hours that childcare facilities are offering are limited.

I have a friend that is a single mom by choice and has a 2-year-old; she works in sales at a software company. Her only childcare option within a 5-mile radius from her home doesn’t allow children to be dropped off before 9 am and they must be picked up no later than 2:30pm, right now. In order to support her, her company and her management team have to make sure she has the daily flexibility to pick up and drop off her son.

Not only is there a shortage of workers on the childcare side, the complication of making sure the space is meeting the new COVID cleaning standards is limiting options. As mentioned before, many businesses haven’t opened or opened fully during this pandemic. The work-life balance doesn’t seem to work for them.

Related: Learn how we can help you hire essential workers in your industry

Optimizing for the Hidden Workforce

So, how we can address these challenges and get better at attracting essential workers?

Well, there are practical and creative things that any business can do – for example, be very clear as to how their workplace is safe to counter the concerns many people have in going back to work. Be flexible over working hours and the ability to work from home (although in many sectors, working from home is not an option); or provide sign-on bonuses and other financial incentives.

Diversifying job seeker channels

What is most important for the long-term sustainability of the job market, however, is being smarter and more innovative in finding the great candidates that are still undoubtedly out there, but they may not be on your typical job boards.

Finding new people is a skillset in its own right and we need to up our game. Simply putting traditional job postings on nationwide and global platforms, such as Indeed, LinkedIn or Monster, is not enough today.

Refining job advertising through personalization

We need to not only create stronger, better targeted ads with instant feedback mechanisms, but also take a more proactive, skills-based approach to recruitment. We need to meet our job seekers where they are and not just assume the generic giants have the answer. We need to tap into artificial intelligence and multiple data points and identify what is stopping these hidden workers from entering the workforce and how we can adapt our traditional recruitment efforts accordingly.

Many businesses are spending countless hours looking for people and are not able to focus on running their business. This is where we need to get creative and stop the one-size-fits-all, traditional job profile and advertising approach.

For example, should we focus more on recruiting people to sectors that are new to them and how they can acquire the necessary skills? Are we missing a trick by not spreading our recruitment net to better attract veterans, care givers, older workers or people with disabilities?

Expanding ad targeting localities

Furthermore, the wide variation in regions across the U.S. when it comes to job opportunities – with some areas booming and others not – make it even more important to avoid a one-size-fits-all, traditional job profile and advertising approach. With Talroo Insights, you can uncover when is the best day and time to target your audience, discover new markets to target and it also helps power candidate search trends. Our technology helps our customers expand advertising based on real metrics, monitor budgets and forecast projections.

For example, more people now may be interested in crossing over to other industries. Traditional targeting, based on their profile, may cause those candidates to be missed. With Talroo Pro, we now have features like “Qualifying Questions” where we can potentially identify some of that interest.


It’s only through being proactive and embracing the latest data analysis methods that employers can start to take on hundreds of essential workers at scale and ensure that the post-pandemic economic recovery reaches its full potential. That’s what we are working hard to achieve at Talroo. We help you find your essential workforce faster than any other talent acquisition platform out there.