MT – Where are the Workers?

Every Friday off work sounds amazing to me, but not to my friend who wants to work full-time, but can’t because their childcare center is closed Fridays due to short staff. Sound familiar? More and more stories are emerging of restaurants, childcare centers, hotels, and other businesses reducing their hours or limiting services due to limited worker availability.

The short answer to “Where are the workers?” is simple – they are already working. Montana has more people working in the state than ever before, and unemployment is near historic lows. So why are employers having a hard time finding workers?

The pandemic recession has changed the way we work. The average work week declined to an average of 32.7 hours in October 2021 compared to 33.2 hours in October 2019. Some payroll workers switched to self-employment during the pandemic, which is good for entrepreneurialism but reduces the applicant pool. Baby boomers retiring without enough younger workers to replace them is a long-term trend that continued over the two years, further limiting our worker supply.

Raising wages and making it easier to apply for jobs are two solutions. In addition, rather than recruiting workers from a small pool of applicants (there are currently 10 job openings for every 5 unemployed people in Montana), some businesses are focused on increasing productivity and reducing their overall need for workers. Workforce training (leading to more efficient workers) and investing in technology (automation) are two ways to increase productivity. The Montana Department of Labor & Industry administers programs that assist employers with workforce training, such as Registered Apprenticeship and other earn-while-you-learn training programs. Employers may be interested in the new Rapid Retraining Program, which provides financial resources for employers training new workers. Contact your local Job Service Montana office for information, or visit https://arpa.mt.gov/Economic.

Access to reliable and affordable childcare would also address the workforce challenge by making more workers available. In the fall of 2021, roughly 16,600 Montana parents were out of the labor force and 55,000 parents were working reduced hours. However, improving access to affordable childcare is a unique challenge. Licensed childcare facilities have mandatory staff-to-child ratios, requiring more workers to expand their services. But if childcare providers increase wages and benefits to recruit more workers, the increased costs get passed along to parents, reducing affordability. Because of these unique challenges, both public policymakers and private employers have an interest in finding solutions to expanding affordable and reliable childcare.

Montana employers can go to https://lmi.mt.gov/Home/Job-Tracking to view the job tracking dashboard, for more information on Montana’s labor market, employment and labor force growth, unemployment insurance claims, and additional answers to “where are the workers?”