For a decade, we’ve been living in a tale of two economies, a strong one for skilled workers, and a worrisome, poor one for workers without skills. That gap, however, may soon diminish as low unemployment, rising expectations, and economic reality cause a recruitment war to begin for employers who want to keep their workers or attract new ones.
Unless employers raise wages, offer more opportunities for training and career advancement, or improve their work environments, it’s going to become harder to keep or recruit workers. For skilled employees, it’s a great time to be in the job market.
Times have been tough and wages have been low for workers who don’t have a college degree or any specialized form of training. The growing number of able-bodied, prime working-age people who have left the workforce is the underbelly of the economy. Many people, especially blue-collar workers who lost their jobs years ago, have abandoned hope of finding new work. That’s part of the reason the labor force participation rate is so low.
But as the recruitment war takes off and wages rise, there is reason to believe that unskilled workers will respond and jump into the workforce in greater numbers. Society can’t give up on these people, and they workers can’t give up on themselves.
Wage growth has been slow across the board, despite the drop in unemployment from 10% in 2009 to 4.2% today. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, real weekly earnings for the median full-time worker increased just over 1% from 2009 to 2016. The fact that wages were essentially flat for 10 years contributed to the public sense that there was something wrong with the economy.
But now, for workers of all stripes, times are about to change. Leverage in the job market is shifting and workers have the upper hand with potential employers. Ask virtually any business owner or manager and they’ll tell you it’s getting harder for them to find people to fill available jobs.
The corner has been turned from the hangover of the great recession, and businesses now recognize that there is growing competition for labor. As the business cycle turns and the recruitment war heats up, smart employers will recognize the trend and get ahead of it. If they don’t, their workers and competitors will.