Millennials now make up the largest age cohort in the US workforce, so employers have an interest in understanding the needs, preferences, and concerns of this generation in order to effectively attract, retain, and develop millennial talent. A common belief about millennials is that their consumption patterns and lifestyle choices are markedly different from those of previous generations: living with their parents longer, getting married later or not at all, and buying homes and automobiles at lower rates. A stereotypical view that has thus emerged of millennials is that they are simply choosing not to do the things their older peers expected them to do in their early careers. The growing consensus among observers of the economic data, however, is that the main reason millennials aren’t behaving like their baby boomer and gen-X predecessors is that they are not as well-off as these generations were at the same point in their lives, thanks in large part to having come into the workforce during and after the Great Recession of 2007-2009.
In the past few weeks, two studies have come out that complicate both of these narratives about millennials, but conflict in how they depict this generation’s financial health. The first is a working paper by Federal Reserve Board economists Christopher Kurz, Geng Li, and Daniel J. Vine, titled “Are Millennials Different?” Yes and no, the economists conclude:
Relative to members of earlier generations, millennials are more racially diverse, more educated, and more likely to have deferred marriage; these comparisons are continuations of longer-run trends in the population. Millennials are less well off than members of earlier generations when they were young, with lower earnings, fewer assets, and less wealth. For debt, millennials hold levels similar to those of Generation X and more than those of the baby boomers. Conditional on their age and other factors, millennials do not appear to have preferences for consumption that differ significantly from those of earlier generations. (Emphasis ours.)
In other words, the paper debunks the idea that millennials are buying fewer houses and new cars because they want to live lower-consumption lifestyles, and instead supports the view that they just haven’t accumulated the wealth to afford these big purchases. On the other hand, economist Alison Schrager argues at Quartz that the Fed data can also be read a different way, and that millennials “are in fine shape, maybe even richer than previous generations, but they have just chosen to invest in different assets”—i.e., higher education:
Facing one of the tightest labor markets in living memory, US retailers and other companies staffing up for the holiday season have had to get creative about finding and attracting the extra workers they need for the seasonal rush. Some retail chains started hiring for the winter holidays all the way back in the early summer, raised entry-level wages for store employees, and offered a variety of bonuses and perks like store discounts.
The retail sector was already feeling pressure to bump up pay, the Star-Tribune reported this week, citing a survey by the hiring platform Snag that found retailers expected wages to rise by 54 percent this year. That’s partly a product of a labor shortage, but also reflects the growth of online shopping:
As more shoppers order online and opt to have items shipped to the store or their front door, retailers’ backroom operations are changing. Mass merchants still need cashiers, salespeople and shelf stockers. But they need more people to package orders for store pickup and to work in warehouses and distribution centers, which increasingly requires more technology skills.
Target is doubling the number of staff it needs to handle digital orders. Macy’s, which is hiring about the same number as last year, will shift its mix and add 5,500 more people for its fulfillment centers. Best Buy says it, too, will bulk up on workers to package up online orders.
Labor market competition, the need to attract and retain more skilled employees, and “HR-as-PR” considerations are all coming to bear on retailers’ decisions to raise pay for their hourly employees. They are also courting hires with new benefits, including intangible benefits like flexibility, Steve Bates notes at SHRM:
Competitive total rewards packages are a key battleground in the scramble for talent today. Yet many organizations still rely on outdated approaches when communicating rewards through the hiring process, focusing too much on compensation while neglecting benefits. This is becoming more difficult as salary budgets continue to stagnate: Recent salary surveys suggest that cash wages in the US are unlikely to grow much faster in the coming year than they have in 2018, despite a strong economy and a tight labor market.
While compensation is consistently a top driver of candidate attraction anywhere in the world, we know that candidates are also attracted to tangible benefits like health insurance and paid leave, as well as intangible benefits like flexible scheduling and remote work options. Even as wage growth falls short of expectations, we have seen major US employers investing more in benefits like paid family and sick leave, health insurance, and education benefits like tuition assistance and help with paying off student loans.
To better understand how employers can use their benefit offerings as talent attractors, Gartner’s Total Rewards team worked with data from our talent market intelligence portal TalentNeuron, looking for a connection between how organizations pitch their benefits in job postings and how quickly they are able to fill posted roles. Organizations that don’t leverage their benefits offerings in this way, we found, may be missing out on an opportunity to meaningfully boost their appeal to candidates.
The latest data from the Labor Department shows that the percentage of private sector employees in the US offered health insurance through their employer rose from 67 percent in 2017 to 69 percent this year, the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month. This figure had dwindled from 71 percent in 2010, when the department began conducting this survey, and this latest uptick represents the first year-over-year increase since 2012.
The Labor Department report showed that 86 percent of full-time private sector employees were offered health benefits, along with 21 percent of part-timers. Union members were significantly more likely to be offered these benefits (94 percent) than non-union employees (66 percent). Of those private sector employees offered medical benefits, 72 percent chose to take advantage of them.
Smaller employers, who are not required to offer health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, had driven most of the decline over the past eight years: Among organizations with fewer than 50 people, 51 percent offered health insurance to their employees in 2018 compared to 55 percent in 2010. Large businesses, with over 500 workers, have been more consistent in offering these benefits, with the percentage of large employers providing health insurance hovering near 90 percent since 2010.
The ACA mandates that organizations with 50 or more full-time equivalent employees offer at least a minimum standard of health benefits to employees working 30 or more hours a week, or pay a penalty of $2,000 per employee. Most large businesses already offered medical benefits before the ACA took effect and continued to do so, but some mid-sized employers have chosen to pay the penalty instead, as the cost of covering their employees would be greater, Paul Fronstin, director of the Health Research and Education Program at the Employee Benefit Research Institute, told the Journal.
In a recent column at BloombergView, Michael Strain, an economist at the American Enterprise Institute, asserted that US businesses, particularly manufacturers, protest too much about the skills gap. Their inability to source skilled employees could be solved, he argued, if they were simply willing to pay higher wages for the talent they need:
Wage growth is picking up, but it is lower than what many economists expect in light of overall economic conditions, and it is not soaring for specific industries.
Simply put, if businesses can’t find workers — or can’t find workers with the right skills — they should raise their wage offers. Basic supply-and-demand logic suggests that doing so will broaden the pool of workers interested in the job, and will make the job more desirable to applicants. In addition, raising wage offerings would likely draw in some of the millions of Americans who report they want a job but are out of the labor force. So unless wage growth picks up, the warnings about labor shortages will fall flat.
Strain is not the first economist to argue that the skills gap is a simple supply-and-demand problem that could be solved by raising the price of labor, or that the problem is on the demand side (not enough attractive jobs) as well as the supply side (not enough skilled workers). Stagnant wage growth may be a factor in US employers’ labor market woes, but in focusing exclusively on wages rather than training and hiring barriers, Strain’s claim oversimplifies the challenge employers are facing. Years of research consistently tell us that while competitive compensation is a large component of what attracts candidates to jobs, there’s no simple formula by which you can convince any given candidate to take a job simply by offering a high enough salary.
It’s easy to point to “basic supply-and-demand logic” to criticize manufacturing companies when you don’t actually understand their experiences in local labor markets, but who says manufacturers aren’t trying to raise wages already anyway? A 2015 study by the Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte showed that 80 percent of manufacturing companies were already willing to pay more than market rates to reduce the skills gap—especially for more skilled labor, such as machinists, craft workers, and industrial engineers. Yet according to our own research at CEB, now Gartner, only 23 percent of heads of HR in the manufacturing industry believe they can close critical skills gaps over the next 12 months.
Vermont Governor Phil Scott on Wednesday signed a bill into law that will grant individuals working remotely for an out-of-state organization up to $10,000 to move there, as part of a suite of initiatives to improve the environment for digital work in the Green Mountain State and attract more residents.
The grant program, slated to begin next year, will be open to any full-time employee of a business domiciled outside Vermont who primarily works remotely from home or a coworking space, and will offer such workers up to $5,000 per year up to a total of $10,000 over the life of the program. These funds can be used to cover a range of expenses associated with moving to Vermont and setting up a remote work presence there, including relocation costs, computer software and hardware, broadband Internet access, and membership in a coworking space. The bill provides enough funding to cover as many as hundreds of these grants over the coming years, depending on the size of each grant, which would represent a significant number of new residents for a state with just under 624,000 people.
The law also instructs several state agencies to identify infrastructure improvements to better enable workers and businesses to establish a remote presence in Vermont, and to encourage the growth of coworking spaces, remote work hubs, maker spaces, and similar innovative work spaces. The state will also examine the potential for developing public-private digital work sites that will be available to both state employees and remote workers in the private sector. Finally, the law instructs agencies to submit recommendations for ensuring that broadband access is available in the downtown areas of Vermont’s municipalities to support these types of remote work venues.
In the latest sign of the tight US labor market giving candidates the upper hand, many construction contractors in the US are now offering cash signing bonuses to skilled craft workers to sweeten the value proposition for joining their team, Jim Parsons reported at the Engineering News-Record this month:
“Signing bonuses are not new, but they are becoming more prevalent,” says Jeff Robinson, president of compensation consulting firm PAS Inc. Unlike the common practice of providing what he calls “mobilization pay” to compensate for relocation costs, contractors now are offering one-time bonuses ranging from a few hundred dollars to upwards of $1,500 per worker.
According to Robinson, a foreman might be offered as much as $3,000, although there may be an expectation that the person will bring other workers along to join the employer’s workforce. “The advantage of a bonus is that it’s a one-time payment that doesn’t affect base pay,” he says, adding that the incentives usually include a 60- to 90-day employment requirement before they can be collected.
The 2017 survey of workforce shortages by the Associated General Contractors of America reported that nearly a quarter of contractors used bonuses for craft personnel because of difficulty filling positions. The trend appears particularly strong in areas where labor demand is extremely high.
Construction is often thought of as a low-skill occupation where one’s qualifications depend more on strength and stamina than knowledge and experience, but in fact it employs a range of skills, while contractors, like most employers, prefer to hire experienced workers if they can, especially for delicate construction tasks that require high levels of skill and craftsmanship. Construction workers are in high demand as commercial and residential building is booming in many parts of the US, and so these workers are becoming harder to find and more expensive to hire.