Hidden Workers and How to Find Them
Labor shortages aren’t new, and they don’t just affect one industry. Exacerbated by COVID, finding workers is tougher than ever. The funny thing is, job openings are climbing too, so why is matching workers with jobs so hard?
Everyone has their version of the answer, political pundits, your outspoken Facebook friend, your family. And all of them are probably right in some way. What they aren’t saying, though, is that the current hiring systems are excluding a huge proportion of qualified and competent potential employees. A recent Harvard study estimates that 27 million of these ‘hidden workers’ exist in the US alone, with more stretched across the world. More accurately, ‘hidden workers’ are those “missing hours (working one or more part-time jobs but willing and able to work full-time); missing from work (unemployed for a long time but seeking employment); or missing from the workforce (not working and not seeking employment but willing and able to work under the right circumstances)” (Fuller et al. 2-3).
This massive pool of untapped resources represents an opportunity for any business willing to rework its hiring methods for the 21st century.
So how can companies find these hidden workers? The study says that updating recruiting methods and focusing on new ways to reach out work best. Current recruiting practices are good at finding people with current employment records, up-to-date skills, polished resumes, and the ability to game automated recruiting systems. But if you haven’t applied for a job in a while, especially to a larger corporation, you may not have all of these, especially this final skill.
Over the last 20 years, many businesses have turned to systems that prioritize keywords and exact matches in cover letters over legitimate skills and laudable work ethics. This creates a knowledge gap between those who understand the system and those who haven’t worked in a while, aren’t comfortable with technology, or are just curious about the job market. This gap has widened significantly over the decades, with more and more Americans remaining outside of the workforce, even if they are willing to work. This problem has grown and will continue to plague the labor market unless we take steps to change it.
Other factors are in play, too, with specific industries (like shopping malls) disappearing and many jobs today requiring a more diverse range of skills than they used to. The market has evolved too fast for many valuable workers to catch up, brought on by an increasing reliance on automated screening for new jobs, alienating everyone who doesn’t perfectly match the employment criteria. This leaves many excellent workers out in the cold, further decreasing their chances of finding a good job. As rejections pile up, jobseekers are discouraged, only reducing their chances of making a living and a life for themselves from gainful employment.
What can we do to improve this unfortunate situation? Before we jump headlong into hiring workers stuck on the outside looking in, we should be aware of the limits. These workers aren’t all well-qualified, may not be able to work normal hours, might suffer from health conditions, or may not be looking for work in the right places. This doesn’t mean that they can’t do great work. Companies that hire significant percentages of hidden workers experience substantial growth compared to companies that don’t. But, hiring workers with these limitations will take a rethinking of some core elements of work, from hiring to day-to-day life on the job.
How can companies make finding, hiring, and training hidden workers easier? The most valuable help employers can provide is making applying easy, easing new hires into the job with training, and providing flexible working hours. These three things alone can transform things entirely. Reform may not be easy, but it will be beneficial and, eventually, necessary. Obviously, these changes sound unrealistic and over the top, but two years ago, we wouldn’t have predicted the rise of Zoom calls either. The world of work is changing faster than ever, so you can go with the flow or fall behind.
Hidden workers are hurting, and many need a chance to prove their ability as a dedicated employee passed over by an unfeeling algorithm. The case for broadening your search for new employees is well-made, so open up your criteria and find ‘hidden’ workers who can solve your labor problem.
Fuller, J., Raman, M., Sage-Gavin, E., Hines, K., et al (September 2021). Hidden Workers: Untapped Talent. Published by Harvard Business School Project on Managing the Future of Work and Accenture. https://www.hbs.edu/managing-the-future-of-work/Documents/research/hiddenworkers09032021.pdf
Todd Miller has spent his entire career in the metal building products manufacturing industry. He is president of Isaiah Industries, an organization recognized as one of the world’s leading metal roofing manufacturers. Todd is currently Vice President of the MRA (Metal Roofing Association) and a Past Chair of MCA (Metal Construction Association). Through his website, he strives to raise the bar on standards and practices to provide property owners with the best possible products for successful roofing projects.
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