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VIEWPOINT: To improve workforce, Del. needs more insights

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These are the words of Delaware business owners and executives: 

“No one really wants to work, because when you pay people for doing nothing, why would they work hard?”

Resume writer and marketing consultant Dan Shortridge discusses the importance of the worker and jobseeker side of the employment.

Dan Shortridge | PHOTO COURTESY OF.DAN SHORTRIDGE

“I can’t figure out where everyone is or how they are paying their bills because no one seems to be looking for a job.”

“I was for Trump and for building the wall, but now I’ll hire an illegal immigrant.”

More than 250 company leaders were surveyed last year on behalf of state workforce development officials. The study revealed that:

  • Many First State employers rate job applicants poorly for their perceived lack of experience, motivation, and skills.
  • A third of executives say workers’ expectations of pay are too high.
  • And 45% reported it takes a month or more to fill their open roles.

Despite its value for policymakers, an employer-only study has a fundamental problem: It doesn’t examine the worker and jobseeker side of the employment equation.

Asking only employers about the job market and hiring will result in flawed policies, inefficient programs, and lopsided laws that will favor the people who already hold the most power in hiring.

We need to center workers’ voices in our workforce policy. We need to ask critical questions of the people who are holding, seeking, and being hired for jobs, flipping questions around like this:

  • Instead of focusing on whether candidates are failing drug screenings or have employment gaps, we should ask applicants about employers’ pay transparency policies, time-off allocations, and parental leave.
  • Rather than ask how employers would rate their wages against competitors, we should be digging deeper and asking workers about actual wages being offered for certain years of experience.
  • And while asking employers whether they accept workers with criminal justice backgrounds is important, so is asking those applicants how their job searches have fared in reality.

We especially also need data accurately representing the experiences of Black, Latino, Native, LGBTQ+ and women workers and job applicants. Focusing on employers, owners and executives results in an overwhelmingly white male perspective.

Thankfully, in Delaware we will be gaining a new perspective on workers’ voices with a follow-up survey later this year expected to focus in part on job skills. If it is a full counterpart to the employer study, then gathering worker perspectives on job availability, hiring processes, and the applicant experience will plug a significant knowledge gap in state labor and workforce planning and start to level the playing field.

Perhaps most importantly, that information can help inform and reform private-sector practices in recruiting and hiring to build smarter, smoother systems. Writing clear job postings, simplifying application processes, cutting down on the number of interviews, and assessing skills instead of requiring degrees are good first steps.

In the absence of solid state-level information, we can look through a broader lens to discover critical insights for action. I’ve spent the last few months digging through hiring data from national surveys of workers and employers conducted in 2022 and early 2023. Here are some key highlights of what workers want – and how employers and policymakers can change the way business is done.

Listen to workers. Many employees report that they have exhausted options at their current employer before applying elsewhere. One in five workers has asked about remote or flexible work, while one in seven has asked for a pay increase. Smart employers will use what they’re hearing as an early-warning system to spark change and improve retention.

Make pay a top priority. That includes higher pay, pay equity, and pay transparency. A majority of workers, 55%, say they’ve felt underpaid. That’s highest among Black workers, at 60%. A third of workers believe employers who don’t include salary in job postings are hiding something, while 55% have rejected an offer after hearing a too-low salary. Legislators, Gov. John Carney and our gubernatorial hopefuls could produce major results for Delaware workers by uniting around the pay transparency movement and looking to states such as Colorado and New York City.

Fix your hiring system. More than half (56%) of workers say they quit at least one hiring process in the last year. Many cite ghosting, no details about pay or benefits, or overly-long interview processes as their main frustrations. More than 70% of human resources leaders have missed a critical hire because their processes were not efficient. And 92% of job applicants outright abandon overly onerous online applications – a simply staggering number. 

To get more people working, the state would be wise to invest in resources to help employers assess and improve their hiring mechanisms.

Both sides readily agree that hiring is broken. To fix it, we need to begin with solid, reliable data so legislators and workforce leaders can craft worker-first policies and laws that help employers and jobseekers alike.

Dan Shortridge, of Dover, is a nationally certified resume writer and marketing consultant.

 

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