How Employers Can Attract and Retain New Employees in a Post-Pandemic Landscape

Across geographies, industries and company sizes, one topic has received near universal agreement among employers: It’s really hard to find qualified workers.

A recent National Federation of Independent Business survey found that 91% of small businesses that posted jobs in April 2024 had few or no qualified respondents. The Conference Board also stated in April that “labor market tightness remains remarkably persistent,” which the most recent 3.9% national unemployment rate confirms.

Initially thought to be a short-term COVID-19-era issue, labor shortages have become a near-permanent challenge and industry experts have run out of common explanations for why. Wages have increased in response to employee demand or increases in state minimum wage laws. COVID-era expanded unemployment insurance benefits and stimulus programs have ended. Women with child care responsibilities have returned to the workforce at pre-pandemic levels.

And rather than labor availability being projected to get better, shortages are poised to accelerate as baby boomers continue to retire, birth rates decline and fewer workers are in the labor force.

While there are no doubt larger policy issues to sort through, employers shouldn’t have to stand still while customer orders go unfulfilled. Employers can directly solve this problem by shifting their mindsets from frustration to proactively adopting proven strategies in recruitment, training and retention.

[READ: 15 Jobs to Consider for a Career Change]

Focus on Trainable Talent

Instead of fruitlessly searching for qualified employees who meet company salary requirements, employers can train employees to become qualified. Employers can narrow their recruitment to trainable employees by focusing on those who have vetted basic work skills. This can combat the recent approach of hiring widely only to have individuals not show up on Day 1 or engage in problematic behavior.

To find trainable applicants, employers can reach out to local nonprofits or schools that have graduated students from soft skills training programs. For example, New York City sponsors its CareerReady Work, Learn and Grow program that provides thousands of graduates of the city’s summer youth employment program with an additional 40 hours of job readiness training and up to 194 hours of direct internship work. Similar programs for adults are run by nonprofits, including at Goodwills, across the country.

[READ: 8 Workplace Trends to Eye for 2024]

Build Relationships With Trade Schools

Employers can expand relationships with booming trade schools, industry worker associations and community colleges. It is often no longer enough to say, “I’d love to hire from your program,” especially when so many others are pursuing the same quick-fix route. Instead, offer ways to contribute your knowledge and services with job shadowing or on-site training, mock interviews or resume reviews, or sponsoring networking events. Investing in long-term relationships can lead to significant and durable dividends, especially when others are largely just focused on today’s needs.

Build a Teaching Culture

All of these strategies require changing the attitude and structure of existing workforces that may not be ready to train new colleagues. To start building a teaching culture, align with your team on what you have all been seeing in the market and the necessity to try new approaches to ensure your existing employees’ jobs remain secure as well. From there, identify employees who are both capable and interested in taking on training responsibilities. This can be especially attractive to long-tenured employees. Think about providing title changes, bonuses or classes to provide trainers with additional skills. Perhaps most critical, consider appointing one individual to lead this effort because, as with all big changes, accountability and speed can be compromised if too many people in your business own a piece of the solution.

[See: Red Flag Phrases to Leave Off Your Resume.]

Addressing Rapid Employee Turnover

These initiatives can also help address today’s other major labor challenge: rapid turnover rates, driven by the early pandemic reality that switching jobs was the fastest and best way to improve near-term salaries. More than 90% of employers reported employee turnover rates exceeding 10% of their headcount in 2023, according to a Franklin Templeton survey of 1,000 respondents in November 2023.

Employers can address valued employee turnover by rewarding workers who are contributing outsize amounts with employee ownership or profit sharing, market pay adjustments, or promotion pathways that support long careers at their businesses. Alternative approaches with strong results include nonmonetary recognition programs, more input from employees into company operations, and providing schedule or workplace flexibility just as the rest of the market is moving back to pre-COVID-19 work routines. Finally, don’t forget learning and development for long-tenured employees on site or through local colleges.

Difficulty finding the right employees for your company is a new normal. But employers shouldn’t be scared — just as they aren’t frightened of artificial intelligence and rising worker expectations. Proactive employers can find success by shifting their mindsets, work cultures and strategies, just as they already do on other business challenges every day.

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How Employers Can Attract and Retain New Employees in a Post-Pandemic Landscape originally appeared on

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