The Great Hiring Scramble

With the pace of the US economic recovery catching many firms off guard, job vacancies have soared 50% this year. How companies can land the best talent the fastest. 

When it comes to workforce planning, it’s a lot easier to go from 100 to zero than from zero to 100.

At least, that’s what organizations are apparently discovering as they face one of the toughest scrambles in years to find workers to fill open positions. According to recent data, the number of job vacancies in the United States soared to nearly 15 million by mid-March—a startling 50% increase from 10 million in January. And it could get worse—new data shows consumers have more than $5 trillion in excess savings, which could trigger a global spending boom that would put even more pressure on companies that are behind the hiring curve.

Jacob Zabkowicz, vice president and general manager of Korn Ferry’s global recruitment process outsourcing business, says the economic recovery in the US has simply been outpacing everyone’s predictions. “Nobody thought the economy would bounce back this much this fast,” he says. Meanwhile, a series of other factors have come into play—from extended government relief payments to health and safety concerns about going back to work to childcare or eldercare responsibilities—all of which are keeping people out of the workforce when they are needed most.

For instance, a recent US Census survey found that more than 4 million fully employable people are voluntarily abstaining from work because they fear exposure to COVID-19. Despite the economy adding more than 900,000 jobs in March and jobless claims falling to a pandemic-era low last week, the unemployment rate has held steady at around 6% for the last few months. 

“There’s a disconnect between what labor is needed and what’s available,” says Nathan Blain, a Korn Ferry senior client partner and the firm’s global leader for optimizing people costs. With the US still not fully opened, Blain says it will only get harder and more competitive for organizations to meet their staffing needs. And that doesn’t factor in attrition, which analysts anticipate to be higher than normal this year as people look for new roles in the improving the job market. At the very least, experts say, firms will have to pay more to get the right people or they could fall behind competitors.

Blain advises organizations behind the hiring curve to embark on an outreach campaign among women, older workers, and others who stepped back from the workforce because of the pandemic. “Let them know you are ready to welcome them back when they are ready to come back,” he says.

Another option is to look at more creative ways to access needed skill sets, says Melissa Swift, a Korn Ferry senior client partner and the firm’s global leader for workforce transformation. She says leading searches with capabilities instead of titles and positions can help ramp up hiring by providing access to broader pools of talent. Moreover, Swift says one roadblock she sees is organizations still hiring from within the same core geographies. Put another way, their recruiting hasn’t moved with the talent. “They can’t hire fast enough because they are hiring from a smaller and smaller pool of people in the same area,” she says.

Similarly, Zabkowicz says, to meet demand, organizations are shifting production to locations where they are fully staffed. He says they are also using more freelance, contract, and contingent workers and making a big recruiting push on college campuses as a sort of triage to their labor needs. “Organizations need to be aggressive and pull as many levers as they can to get the talent they need,” Zabkowicz says.