The days of finding large numbers of pre-trained and experienced workers are fast fading. Businesses across Maine—and the nation—have had trouble finding the available, qualified workers they need to operate at full capacity.
In fact, there are currently about two open jobs for every unemployed job seeker in the state of Maine. Those looking for work have a lot of choices.
With unemployment being so low, at 3.8%, common questions the Maine Department of Labor have been hearing are, where did the workers go, and how can employers connect with the skilled workers they need to thrive? Some of the factors that have led to a tight labor market have been identified for over a decade, and the COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbated them.
In the last 30 years, the largest segment of Maine’s population has moved from prime working ages (25-44) toward later career or retirement ages (55-74).
To begin with, Maine’s declining birth rate is having a great impact, because fewer children being born leads to fewer students graduating, and fewer people entering the workforce over time.
In the last 30 years, the largest segment of Maine’s population has moved from prime working ages (25-44) toward later career or retirement ages (55-74). Most states are facing some version of this problem. During the pandemic, there was an increase of early retirements nationwide. But with Maine being the oldest state in the nation, this has had a large impact.
A characterization we sometimes hear is the “Great Resignation,” or the idea that workers not near retirement age are also bowing out of the labor force—in fact, it is really more of a “Great Reshuffling” of the workforce. During the pandemic, thousands of workers took the time to reevaluate their priorities, and decided to change jobs in favor of better pay or work conditions.
What can employers do?
Labor force participation in Maine during prime working ages of 25-54 is over 80%, and employers need to be creative in their hiring and retention practices. One way to do this is to reach out to people who have typically been left on the sidelines of our workforce, such as those with disabilities, New Mainers/immigrants, veterans, youth, older workers, women, those who were formerly incarcerated, and those in recovery. The Maine Department of Labor can help make these connections.
Employers should also look at their job requirements and determine whether they can be relaxed in any way. For example, when there were more job seekers than available positions, employers would often require certain educational degrees or years of experience in order to weed out applicants. When in fact, instead of certain credentials, maybe the employer is really just looking for certain demonstratable skills.
They can also look at their flexibility, and how they are posting their positions—some older workers in the community may be looking for part-time work, or they may not be seeing online advertisements and be looking for a more personalized, paper application process.
Innovative employers are working with the Maine Department of Labor and its partner agencies through programs such as Registered Apprenticeship, the Maine Hire-A-Vet Campaign, and Vocational Rehabilitation to hire, train, and retain their workforce.
Department of Labor staff are based statewide at CareerCenters, and can help employers of all sizes post their jobs and attract workers, including on the free Maine JobLink. Staff also meet with individuals who are looking for work, and are constantly making connections to employers and training.
There are no quick solutions to hiring in a tight labor market. However, the Maine Department of Labor and its partners are available to work with you to reach your goals.
To connect with your local CareerCenter, visit www.mainecareercenter.gov.
David Grima is an employment and training specialist with the Maine Department of Labor. He may be reached at David.M.Grima@Maine.gov, at the Rockland Career Center at 91 Camden Street, Suite 201 in Rockland, and at 207-596-2617.