By Greg Bland
With the U.S. economy continuing to grow, businesses are beginning to scale their operations back to pre-pandemic levels. Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties all added jobs from June to July. As the Pacific Coast Business Times recently reported, Ventura County led the way with 2,500 new jobs in the month, while Santa Barbara County added 600 jobs and San Luis Obispo County added 500.
California’s main industries, such as leisure and hospitality, continue to rebound, which means local businesses can expect to see a continued increase in available workers as more people re-join the workforce. Now is the time to plan for this new world of work, which includes hybrid schedules, wage growth, training, and other critical priorities like workplace safety and diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I).
Following are five steps that companies in the tri-county region can take to successfully rebuild their workforces and maximize their success:
1. Listen to The Needs of Your Talent. The pandemic has permanently shifted how we prefer to work and which benefits we find most important. According to a Morning Consult survey, 39% of workers, and 49% of millennial and Gen Z employees, would consider quitting if their employers weren’t flexible about remote work. Likewise, workers are demanding more from their employers and the facilities they work in with respect to worker safety, health and well-being.
Employers should engage employees at all levels in return-to-work policies and decisions, so approaches are rooted in their preferences when possible. Key areas to consider include more flexible working policies, enhanced benefits for working parents and caregivers, extended paid leave and safeguards to ensure work-life balance. Hold ongoing listening sessions, including through surveys and 1:1 conversations, to keep a pulse on employee concerns. Proactively and transparently communicate all decisions, and be prepared to adjust policies as needs and circumstances change.
2. Prioritize Skills Assessments and Trainings. BofA Global Research estimates that approximately 700,000 workers left the labor force due to a skills mismatch. Combined with record disruption driven by the pandemic, re-skilling and up-skilling the workforce are paramount.
To start, employers should assess how an employee’s job may have changed during the pandemic. Then, invest in ongoing training for employees to boost learning and address expertise gaps. Perhaps it’s a new training in AI or robotics for workers seeing fast disruption in their field, like manufacturing, or a rotational program that enables corporate employees to learn about other areas of the firm. Companies today have a critical opportunity to use the best of corporate America’s resources to equip workers with the skills, technologies and mindsets to succeed.
3. Keep Pace with Wage Growth. A smaller pool of workers combined with strong labor demand are fueling wage growth, and the greatest wage lifts are being seen in roles that experienced the highest demand during the pandemic. Average annual salaries stood at $50,150 in April, up from a low of $47,400 last year, according to Revelio Labs.
In today’s war for talent, employers must ensure their wages are competitive and in line with a growing economy. Important steps include conducting regular industry benchmarking, reviewing benefits and salary growth plans, and performing company-wide audits to uncover and address pay inequities.
4. Support Financial (and Overall) Wellness. According to Bank of America’s latest Workplace Benefits Report, 62% of employers feel “extreme responsibility” for employees’ financial wellness, up from 13% in 2013. Still, only 49% of employees say they feel financially well today, down from 61% two years ago. This comes as COVID-19 produced significant new financial challenges for Americans to weather.
In a post-pandemic environment, employers must reimagine approaches to financial wellness. To start, ensure any program addresses common employee challenges that go beyond retirement, such as rebuilding savings, emergency funds and healthcare costs. Acknowledge that needs may differ based on gender and age, and think about wellness more holistically, recognizing the interconnected nature of financial, physical and mental wellness.
5. Champion Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I) – Studies have also shown that a more diverse workforce leads to better financial performance. To attract a new generation of socially minded employees, employers need to “walk the talk” on DE&I with new and expanded initiatives, measurable goals and clear action. Key steps include empowering employees to be part of DE&I workplace programs and discussions; setting near and long-term goals and proactively communicating a roadmap to achieve them; and implementing DE&I into your company’s broader corporate strategy.
As workplaces continue to think about reopening plans, and as the fight for talent continues, putting these proactive practices in place will go far in helping companies ensure they have a talented, diverse and productive workforce that can launch them to success.
• Greg Bland is senior vice president for business banking and president of the San Luis Obispo region at Bank of America.