collars unite: blue- and white-collar employers face similar challenges in 2021.

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Lengthy hiring cycles. Widespread skill gaps. Hard-to-find skill sets. Difficulty identifying who the right candidates are from the outset. A quick survey of workforce management challenges facing employers right now suggests that talent acquisition has become a major pain point for organizations across the board — that is, for blue- and white-collar employers alike.

What are the most pressing challenges at the moment? And what can organizations do to overcome them? Let’s get the lay of the land for blue- and white-collar employers in 2021 and beyond.

1. talent scarcity

First things first: a tough reality check, one that applies for blue- and white-collar employers equally. The fact is, hiring is getting harder for most organizations — and talent scarcity is often the root cause.

This isn’t subjective. One survey of U.S. manufacturers by Deloitte surfaced the following, for example:

  • Finding the right talent is now 36 percent harder for manufacturing hiring managers than it was in 2018 — even though the unemployment rate has nearly doubled the size of the available workforce. Go figure.
  • Meanwhile, more than three out of four manufacturers are saying that they anticipate ongoing challenges attracting and retaining talent — both in 2021 and beyond.

On the white-collar side, it’s a similar story. For example, 66 percent of companies plan to hire additional IT staff this year — despite the fact that almost the same number (65%) say that existing hiring challenges are hurting their industry. How do they plan to add those new hires when talent is this scarce already?

2. digital transformation and the future of work

The line between blue- and white-collar workers has never been more pronounced than it was at the height of the pandemic: The former (by and large) continued showing up to physical worksites — despite health and safety risks — while the latter adopted remote work, experienced undesired weight change and retreated to so-called “Zoom towns.”

How is all of that playing out today? Interestingly, it seems that many of those differences are flattening. In fact, given the strong emphasis on digital transformation for companies across the board, common workforce management challenges are emerging for blue- and white-collar employers alike.

You can see this clearly playing out in tech: At Facebook, Microsoft and Apple, for example, — tech giants from whom many other companies take their cues — a return to onsite work, either on a part-time or full-time basis, appears to be imminent.

What do their employees have to say about it?

A recently released survey of internal employees at Apple, for one, found that flexible work options — including the option to work from home — are important to a full 90 percent of the company’s workforce. Further, 36.7 percent of employees indicated they just might be forced to resign due to lack of flexible work options down the line.

If true, that suggests a level of return-to-work anxiety that would seem to put the “Sunday Scaries” to shame. Only time will tell, of course, but as transitions go, there are worrying signs this one won’t be smooth or easy.

Meanwhile, blue-collar employers today are facing surprisingly similar challenges, particularly as they ramp up their digital capabilities, implement tech-based solutions and prepare for the future of work.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the manufacturing sector, where the importance of new skill sets — and of technical and digital proficiencies, most of all — is increasing at an exponential rate. In fact, the majority of manufacturers plan to implement hybrid workforce models in the next three years. What’s more, this is true of non-production-related jobs like accounting and front-line production work alike.

For human capital leaders in an industry that already has such a well-documented skills gap, where do they think they’re going to find these future-ready employees? Indeed, that’s the question for all organizations right now, and another way in which the outlooks of blue- and white-collar employees are aligned.

3. the upskilling and reskilling imperative

Make no mistake: It isn’t just manufacturers who are in trouble. Across all industries, blue-collar or white, there’s a growing skills gap — in many cases it’s getting wider, and it’s something that must be addressed by organizations across the board. In fact, 87 percent of organizational leaders say they either are currently experiencing gaps or expect them in the next few years.

The only way to overcome an obstacle of that magnitude is through upskilling or reskilling — and employees, for their part, appear to be on board. One survey of 22,000 employees found that 77 percent were willing to upskill to make themselves more employable, and that was before the watershed disruption of a global pandemic. During it, more than one in three workers reported building new digital skills, and more than three out of four now say they’re ready to learn new skills — or even reskill completely.

Clearly, in other words, this is something that employees want. How effectively are organizations delivering it?

The answer is mixed. Only five percent of organizations across the board rolled out upskilling or reskilling initiatives in response to the global pandemic, for example, according to Randstad’s “next normal” report. Today, what’s more, despite recognizing the value of upskilling and reskilling opportunities for their workforces, one out of three companies still aren’t offering them at the moment. And even among those that are, there’s clearly room for improvement. In fact, 91 percent of companies acknowledge that their learning and development programs would be more effective if they had expert guidance.

That’s something organizational leaders across the board should bear in mind. Simply put, this is a business-critical priority for both blue- and white-collar employers. Organizations that are struggling in this department, as many seem to be, should look to leverage strategic partners who can help them build best-in-class upskilling or reskilling programs — before it’s too late.

key takeaways

As resignation rates continue to soar for blue- and white-collar companies alike, it’s clear that, whatever the differences between these organizations, their future workforce management challenges appear to be very much in sync. The way forward on both sides won’t be easy.

The findings reported here should make clear, above all, that now is the time for action. With challenges come opportunities, and companies that act strategically today will be the best equipped to pivot, adapt and thrive, no matter what tomorrow brings.

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