Critical Position Worker Shortages

Rising unemployment cannot abate workforce shortages for some critical positions.

While March brought a rise in the unemployment rate to 8.5%, the supply of workers for several critical positions continued to fall.

Data from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics shows that several occupations may have too few workers to satisfy current demand. In January, the most recent month of detailed data, several occupations recorded an unemployment rate below 4%. 4% unemployment is commonly associated with “full employment,” a term to describe a phenomenon where everyone who wishes to work is employed.

While full employment doesn’t sound like a problem during an economic recession, the reality is that several industries, such as electric utility, mining and oil & gas extraction, are growing. A shortage of critical position workers for an expanding company would have a significant financial impact because these workers hold positions that have a high business impact or mission criticality.

Attracting and retaining critical position workers is a strategic competency for today’s business leader. Below are four groups of critical positions with unemployment rates below 4%. Three groups represent industries. The fourth identifies critical positions within Information Technology. IT is a functional department that two colleges and I maintain is the first corporate area severely impacted by demographic trends (click here to receive a pre-publication copy of our white paper on this trend).

Electric Utility                                          Mining
Nuclear Engineers 0.0%                       Maintenance, Heavy Equip. 0.0%
Nuclear Technicians 0.0%                    Mining & Geological Engineers 0.0%
Power Plant Manager 1.3%                   Roof Bolters 0.0%

Oil & Gas Extraction                               IT Department
Civil Engineers 3.0%                              IT Engineers 3.3%
Maintenance, Heavy Equip 0.0%          IT Hardware Engineers 3.5%
Petroleum Engineers 0.0%                   IT Managers 3.0%


What can employers do if they face a shortage of critical position workers? Three things:

Understand the Risk Exposure:  Determine the severity by conducting an internal and external workforce assessment along five risk categories: Supply, Age, Retirement, Turnover and Generational Friction.

Prepare for a Mindset Change:  Change how you think about your workforce. Instead of viewing it as a homogenous labor pool, segment the workers who are in critical positions in a similar fashion as marketers segment consumers. Determine which workforce segments represent growth, attraction and retention opportunities.

Look for Nuggets:  Collect and share success stories where your organization and others are successfully attracting and retaining critical position workers.