Op-Ed: Given the labor shortage, businesses face extremely complex months ahead
For decades, in Puerto Rico, only about 45% of the capable people have been employed, or actively seeking employment. Now, the structure of the pandemic aids has increased the number of qualified people, who choose to stay at home.
Simultaneously, populist voices blame employers for the situation, ignoring the various causes for the problem, and the challenges that Puerto Rican businesspeople are facing to maintain their operations viable.
While the recovery processes are injecting millions of dollars into our economy and creating multiple job opportunities, there are thousands of skilled employees that have elected not to return to the formal economy, at least until September 2021, when the current aids end.
Quite often, we hear stories of candidates who applied and confirmed the interview but did not attend it, came unprepared for the interview, accepted the job offer and did not show up on the first day of employment, or just stopped coming to work, without notice. Finding several solutions to this situation, shall be a top priority for government and businesses.
In Puerto Rico, the shortage of skilled labor willing to participate in the formal economy is a pre-pandemic phenomenon. For years, the hospitality, construction and agriculture sectors have dealt with this challenge. Now, amidst the pandemic, hundreds of articles have been published throughout the United States, about businesses having serious difficulties to resume operations due to a scarcity of capable labor.
Ten years ago, when we started in the hospitality industry, we identified the need to implement a flexible compensation system to attract and retain staff with the formal education and experience in the field and committed to service excellence. While unique programs were created for key positions, there are still jobs of difficult recruitment and retention. So, we continue to look for viable alternatives to close this gap.
Other factors reducing the availability of skilled labor willing to be formally employed, are the government assistance programs and the pandemic aid. Several candidates have told us that they would “only work part-time or off-payroll to keep the Nutritional Assistance Program, the Government Health Insurance, the Housing Assistance Program, or the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA).”
To reintegrate them into the formal economy, we would need to rethink how to combine a credit for formal work with our social support systems or offer an average wage north of $19 per hour, something that most small businesses cannot maintain.
In addition, each business must reevaluate its internal processes, technologies, and culture to ensure it can support the needs of having four generations working together, and that incorporates strategies to strengthen their business model and their staff’s competencies.
Also, we must consider other factors that influence and add complexity to the work environment, including the amount of incorrect information and the opinions of labor pseudo-experts circulating on social media.
Furthermore, we must acknowledge that by October 2021, many of these qualified employees would have been out of the work environment for 18 months. Therefore, some of their technical competencies would have weakened, their work ethics and expectations would have changed, business processes may be different, and many jobs would have been replaced by technology.
As a result, government and private organizations will be obliged to create education, retraining, and reintegration programs to successfully bring these talents back into their operations.
While Puerto Rico is set for a strong recovery, the shortage of capable staff has become a significant obstacle for many organizations.
It is imperative that the private and government sectors, work together, with great urgency, to identify creative and viable solutions to bring our skilled people back to work, combined with other alternatives, such as reintegrating our 50-plus population and importing capable labor from abroad, to fulfill the demand.