No. 1 question being asked of HR today: Where are the applicants?

Every day in businesses throughout the U.S., the questions is: Where are the applicants? Why can’t I find people to fill my open positions? Well, there is not one simple reason.

Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s there were discussions taking place at the local and state level concerning looming worker shortages projected sometime in the 2020-2030 time period and companies needed to be prepared and plan accordingly.

Finding people to fill all the open positions was going to be a challenge. Why? It simply would come down to more jobs than people.

U.S. Census statistics show families after World War II (parents of the baby boomers) had larger families. From 1946 to 1964 on average 4.24 million babies were born each year, adding to the population. Since then, baby boomers have accounted for approximately 40% of the U.S. population.

Pew Research states that based on the 2019 Census data, baby boomers accounted for 71.6 million people (ages 57-73) The next population group are the Gen-Xer’s (ages 41-56) at 65.2 million. Millennials, (ages 25-40) are hovering at 72.1 million. Pew suggests the number of millennials will continue to grow steadily as young immigrants expand that group and will surpass the baby boomer number by 2028. Doesn’t sound too bad right? Well, hello COVID-19.

According to Forbes Magazine and the Pew Research Center, in the third quarter of 2020 it’s believed that 30 million baby boomers retired or otherwise left the workforce. The study showed that COVID-19 heavily contributed to boomers being forced out of the job market with layoffs and closures.

A year later, a survey showed that another 75% of boomers planned to retire early as the pandemic made them realize they would be happier and more fulfilled without their jobs. And that’s just one factor in the reduction of available workers.

Prior to the pandemic, women accounted for 50% of the U.S. workforce. During 2020 that number dropped sharply as it’s estimated that 2.8 million women left the workforce (approximately 780,000 just in September alone).

At a worldwide level, women who lost jobs in 2020 exited the labor force completely at a rate of 90% compared to around 70% of men. Many were mothers to young children, having to choose between taking care of their children or going to work. Others chose to take care of elderly parents in their homes as an alternative to long-term care.

To date, approximately 1.8 million female workers have not returned to the workforce. September 2021 was not much better as that month’s jobs report showed another 300,000 women left the workforce. It doesn’t end there.

Business consultant McKinsey conducted research, and in September 2021 released their report, titled “Women in the Workforce.” They found that women are experiencing a higher burn-out rate than their male counterparts. In fact, one in three women have considered leaving or downsizing their careers in 2021 compared to one in four at the beginning of the pandemic.

These statistics are further complicated by the changing dynamics of employee expectations. Post pandemic workers are seeking higher pay, better benefits, more flexibility in scheduling and remote work options. Along with added salary to cover the costs of commuting, clothing and parking that they didn’t have while working at home.

They’re also looking for more work-life balance along with compassionate leaders that make them feel like the company cares about and is invested in them.

As employers, we are going to have to learn to adapt and adjust moving forward. The old “that is the way we’ve always done it” might not work any longer. Finding and keeping talent is going to continue to be a challenge for employers as we work through these post-pandemic times.