Spec On The Job Blog


MSN | Finding the Right Talent in Today's Blue-Collar Labor Market

April 29 2024

Story by Jake Smith, MSN 

The fight to recruit and retain talent continues. According to the US Chamber of Commerce, the American workforce has been decreasing for decades, and the COVID-19 pandemic only accelerated this trend, driving millions of workers into early retirement or unpaid domestic labor like childcare. As a result, the US currently has 9.5 million job openings but only 6.5 million unemployed workers.

According to Jason Lamonica, COO of industrial staffing services company Spec on the Job, today’s talent crunch is particularly squeezing businesses in the trades. “These companies currently need to make an even bigger hiring push than other sectors in the US economy,” he explains.

The US job market remains strong

It’s an understatement to say the state of the US job market is currently robust. Despite high interest rates, employers continue to add hundreds of thousands of new positions every month. In the first quarter of 2024, the rate of job creation was even higher than it was in 2023, averaging 276,000 non-farm positions each month. Meanwhile, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill has created thousands of jobs in the trades — 20,000 jobs per month on average, a historically high rate. 

“Major public-works projects are gearing up across the country, creating nearly unprecedented demand for labor in construction, transportation, and manufacturing,” Lamonica says.

These trends have fundamentally changed a power dynamic that long favored employers. Since today’s employees have plenty of choices, they are also taking advantage of them. A “Great Reshuffling” is taking place as people move on to better positions with superior benefits, wages, and alignment with their personal goals, which has left many blue-collar companies struggling to find enough workers to fill critical roles on their teams.

Strategies for finding blue-collar talent

Blue-collar roles traditionally offer high salaries, yet even the promise of a healthy paycheck hasn’t been enough to lure workers to these professions in the necessary numbers. According to Lamonica, one of the ways blue-collar employers can fill their roles is to consider younger or less experienced staff members. 

“In an encouraging sign for the industry, Gen Z is questioning whether college is worth the sticker price and taking a hard look at alternatives,” Lamonica notes. “It also hasn’t been lost on them that manual labor appears less vulnerable to AI than white-collar professions.”

Indeed, the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center has found that more and more students are choosing to take classes at vocational and technical schools than in years past. Between 2022 and 2023, enrollments in these programs shot up a remarkable 16 percent.

Similarly, Lamonica points to the possibility of upskilling existing employees to meet organizational needs. “When you invest in your team’s professional development, you not only meet your business’s needs but also boost employee morale and loyalty,” he explains. 

Embracing a new workforce

Lamonica also encourages blue-collar businesses to diversify their teams, since certain demographics are underrepresented in the trades. For instance, women only make up 10.8 percent of the workforce in construction according to the latest statistics from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. In addition, only 1.7 percent of these jobs are held by people of Asian descent, and Black or African American people only occupy 6.7 percent of them.

“Opening the doors to workers of all backgrounds can help fill the ranks,” Lamonica notes.

Creating the right working conditions to attract such workers will likely require company policies to change, however. That’s why the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation has called for employers to provide flexible work schedules and support for working parents. Lamonica agrees. 

“Today’s employees seek real work-life balance,” Lamonica explains. “Employers who force their workers to sacrifice their personal lives tend to lose their workers. Along with offering flexible schedules and family-friendly policies, another possible solution could be creating part-time positions.”

Changing the workplace culture

Similarly, many company cultures in blue-collar industries will need to transform and become more inclusive. According to New America, a think tank that focuses on public policy, “Harassment and exclusion of women, LGBTQ+ workers, and racial minorities is common in many occupations, not just construction. In construction and other skilled trades, however, massive underrepresentation of these groups appears to make discrimination and harassment more widespread.” 


“If people don’t feel welcome on your team, encountering implicit bias or even discrimination, then they will experience your organization as toxic and look for an exit,” Lamonica explains. “Unfortunately, many people might even decide the whole profession isn’t a good fit for them. Today’s companies can’t afford to hemorrhage talent due to outdated stereotypes.”

Another strategy for finding and hiring the right people is to employ a staffing agency. “Employing services that specialize in recruiting blue-collar talent like Spec on the Job can give employers a competitive edge,” Lamonica notes. “These experts focus on attracting talent, so they know what it takes to acquire — and keep — the best talent possible. Partnering with these services can be the fastest and most efficient way to get the staff you need.”

Challenges and opportunities for the future of work

The labor shortage shows no signs of cooling down. For Lamonica, these current conditions present both challenges and opportunities. 

“Businesses of all kinds are being asked to rethink how they work,” Lamonica says. “The decisions we make now have the potential to make work more humane and satisfying for everyone long into the future.”

Read the full article here. 

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