Aiming to address a nationwide worker shortage, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation is encouraging employers to look beyond the stigma and consider ex-offenders and second-chance hiring.
Reacting to the nationwide worker shortage, members of U.S. Chamber of Commerce are suggesting removing barriers that prevent valuable employees from entering the workforce, by considering alternatives including hiring those who have been incarcerated.
During the Chamber’s Thursday, June 3, online Workforce Initiative event, Carolyn Cawley, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, said ex-offenders can help fill the unsettling unemployment gap, although they face the stigma of having been convicted.
She introduced Wendy Safstrom, executive director of the Society for Human Resource Management, who reasoned that — despite the stigma — employers should remember crimes on their records were committed years, or decades, ago, and that they shouldn’t continue to be penalized for wrongdoing.
The Society for Human Resource Management helps employers understand benefits of what she called “second-chance hiring” and directed them to the website at www.shrm.org “to find resources and help you start an intentional hiring plan within your place of business.”
Other reasons for the worker shortage were identified as needing childcare, concerns about spread of the coronavirus, more competition, and changes in expectations and tolerance for working conditions.
The Chamber released figures stating that there were 8.1 million job openings in March 2021, and about half as many available workers, setting a new record.
Neil Bradley, executive vice president of the U.S. Chamber, said that when businesses don’t have enough employees they are forced to reduce hours. Some restaurants and stores can’t open because of worker shortages, causing the economy to slow.
“It’s a crisis out there for employers across this nation. There is no single, silver-bullet solution that will solve this problem. There are lots of things we can do and that will make a difference,” Bradley said.
As he introduced Linda Smith, director of early childhood initiatives, Bradley asked about states using federal funds to help parents afford childcare. Smith said Congress and the federal government have “put a lot of money out there for childcare in the last couple of months — upwards of $50 billion” to provide help states need.
“If you are having trouble getting childcare, there is a significant amount of money, to the tune of $25 billion, to help with this … to incentivize workers coming back to work in childcare,” she said.
Bradley thanked her “for being able to deliver good news” and asked if she is seeing signs of improvement during conversations with state leaders. She said they are listening to constituents.
Kentucky Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman said workforce training should begin during early-childhood education, not during or after high school, to be sure every child has skills to develop a stronger workforce. Kentucky is focused on cradle-to-career training, she said.
Darren Hawkins, CEO of Yellow, a transportation service based in Overland Park, Kan., called for legislation to ensure “a living-wage career for truck drivers, to protect the nation’s supply chain and keep America rolling down the highway to economic prosperity.”
Michael Bellaman, president of the Association of Builders & Contractors, said the construction industry needs 430,000 workers and will need another million in the next few years. He suggested a merit-based worker visa system to provide opportunities for those who want to work in the United States, with a pathway to sponsor them to permanent status.
Gina M. Raimondo of the U.S. Secretary of Commerce said that, when she asked CEOs to name their greatest challenges, several placed finding enough employees at the top of the list.
Suzanne Clark, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber, said workforce challenges existed before the pandemic but have worsened during the past year. She asked Raimondo where the system failed, and Raimondo said high school technical training has been under-emphasized and, in some cases, abandoned in favor of urging every high school graduate to go to college.
Nearly half of college students drop out, leaving them with no jobs and high student-loan debts, she said. Government-funded job training has been too supply-focused, instead of having the government provide training, she said.
“If you don’t have commerce in a business of any size, from day one and every day, within the Department of Labor & Department of Education, it just won’t be successful. You really do need buy-in from the business community,” Raimondo said.
She advised increasing apprenticeships and credited President Joe Biden for wanting to see 1 million to 2 million apprenticeships created.
“Apprenticeships do work. … If you think about all of the jobs in the digital backbone, they all could lend themselves to an apprenticeship-type model,” she said.
The digital backbone is said to enable businesses to react to rapid changes in the digital world.