Guest post by Nancy Mwirotsi and Rosalind Carey.
The U.S. labor force is facing a crisis that’s been brewing for decades and has become readily apparent thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. Millions of Americans are without jobs, yet millions of job postings are unfilled. A 2021 data review published by Emsi found that as of March 2021, over 19 million Americans filed for some sort of jobless benefits despite 7 million recorded job openings. The US labor force participation rate (LFPR) has been steadily declining since the 1980s, yet the last year has made the hiring crisis glaringly obvious. There are three parts to the current labor crisis: the mass retreat of baby boomers from the workforce, the record-low LFPR of Millennial and Gen-X age employees, and the lowest birth rates in US history.
As baby boomers retire early, their children and grandchildren are not prepared nor interested in taking their places as skilled employees. Between February 2020 and February 2021, over 2.4 million Millennial and Gen-X women left the labor force. Part of the reason is that the industries that traditionally employ more women than men were the first to close during the pandemic–food service, retail, and travel industries. The other is that working mothers were the primary caregivers to children learning remotely, and many made the choice to leave their jobs to better support their children. Men of the same generations have also been retreating from the labor force since the 1980s, due to shifting interests and a rising preference for part-time work instead of full-time.
One upside to this crisis is that current employees and job applicants are driving the workforce. Employers and hiring managers are competing for talented applicants and are learning that employee retention is crucial to the success of their business. Applicants can choose where to apply and where to accept offers with exclusivity. Additionally, non-traditional applicants are becoming increasingly attractive to employers, such as applicants without a college degree and workers that are on the older or younger ends of their generation.
Pi515 specifically serves students who are likely to be classified as non-traditional job applicants. Our programs equip middle and high school students with the digital and soft skills to be attractive applicants to a wide range of employers. High school students gain experience through internships and teaching opportunities, preparing them to enter the workforce before receiving a college degree. Because the size and strength of America’s labor force directly impacts the economic success of the country, the work that Pi515 does ensures that the students served are entering the workforce as the most prepared, attractive, and flexible candidates they can be. The shrinking labor pool is a problem without one easy solution. But the impacts of a strong workforce are so keenly felt that Pi515 is doing everything it can to offset this growing problem. After school programs, workshops, and motivational summits keep students engaged in STEM throughout their time in school and into their chosen career fields. To keep up with the growing interest in these educational programs, the organization is increasing the number of weekly classes and workshops offered. Through this expansion of programming, Pi515 is working to combat the growing demographic drought.
Nancy Mwirotsi is the founder of Pi515 and Rosalind Carey is a writing intern for Pi515. Pi515 is a nonprofit organization that empowers refugee and disadvantaged youth to succeed by teaching them technology skills.