CT Post: An Answer to The Labor Shortage, October 9th, 2022

Joseph Carbone

Plato famously wrote: “our need will be the real creator” which molded over time into the English proverb ‘Necessity is the mother of invention. As the post-COVID world of work evolves, remote work continues to expand its popular standing among employers and the American workforce. But it will soon be recognized as one of the assets that will help our state overcome the most serious labor shortage in our history. Although the shortage is a national challenge, it will soon reach the crisis stage in Connecticut and may remain with us for decades to come.

So, you might wonder, why is Connecticut in greater harm’s way than most other states? Connecticut’s labor force has struggled to grow and remains smaller today than it was 10 years ago. This is happening as the state’s population, the sixth oldest in the nation, ages toward retirement. Although slightly improved, the state struggles to retain our youth and recently degreed workers. These and other factors have created a situation where there are twice the job openings as the number of unemployed workers in the state. These challenges are structural and cannot be reversed in short order. They were trending in the wrong direction for years without anyone truly comprehending their importance.

Nonetheless, Connecticut must do what is necessary to minimize the economic damage from a sustained period of worker shortage. Given the enormity of this challenge, Connecticut’s response must be multi-faceted and conducted in campaign mode. The public needs to understand it, employers need to be engaged and the education and training system must be prepared for rapid response. We need to retain talent; upskill those already employed and utilize creative arrangements to curb retirements. Telework can be the keystone to this effort and a vehicle that can grow our labor force by tens of thousands. Just think of all who could benefit; parents with young children, folks with disabilities, mature workers seeking part-time projects, those lacking transportation, and so many others. They all can contribute to meeting demand.

Telework offers employers an opportunity to diversify their talent pool. Except for employment disciplines that require one’s presence, employers can think borderless when searching for talent. Remote work can open opportunities for a globally competitive workforce and reduce dependence on expensive H1-B visas to secure talent. Remote work is more than an altruistic endeavor or employee benefit; it is an entirely new way of collaborating and doing business. By doing so, employers will find more intentional and meaningful employee interactions, more employee engagement, and greater employee retention.

Technology sometimes reduces the number of employees, but it always improves competitiveness. Connecticut needs to offer incentives to employers to encourage investment in technology especially now. I suggest the same for incumbent workers, anyone that has greater potential to be more productive must be empowered to do so. Our aging workforce is an asset, they offer experience, knowledge, and strong social skills. They must be viewed as part of the solution, not part of the problem. Remote work training programs for employers and employees alike should be a standard feature of state programs to attract employers to our state.

The WorkPlace has been steep in Telework research for years. We will play a role in Connecticut’s efforts to integrate telework into all aspects of our state workforce system. We will collaborate with the Governor’s Office of Workforce Strategies and, the Department of Labor to further promote telework to Connecticut’s employers and citizens

In response to dynamic labor market challenges, Governor Lamont and the legislature reorganized the state’s workforce system. The design breaks down silos, embraces technology and forges new levels of cooperation. We still have our work cut out for us but telework may compensate for the decades of neglect that created this labor crisis.