Everyone Is Talking About “Return to Work”—What About Those Who Never Left?

December 27, 2021

Over the last two years, we’ve seen the COVID-19 pandemic upend our daily routines, forcing millions of Americans to shift to remote work. And even after we get the pandemic under control, the number of workers who work from home will likely be much higher than it was before 2020.

According to a May 2021 Gallup report, 72 percent of white-collar workers were still working remotely in April compared to just 14 percent of blue-collar workers. Although many remote employees will eventually return to the workplace, the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta predicts that the number of full-time employees who will work from home at least one day a week will triple from 2019—when only 10 percent of employees enjoyed that benefit.

But what about skilled workers?

Working from home wasn’t an option for essential workers, and countless production workers never left the workplace when lockdowns and restrictions went into place. Even as the United States rebounds from COVID-19, many blue-collar workers are still feeling sidelined by pandemic concerns, with lower-income earners hit the hardest.

The last two years have marked a dramatic shift in our economy and the morale of our workforce—and your organization can’t afford to ignore the impact of the “return to work” on blue-collar workers. What can you do to keep blue-collar workers on-site?


What Does the “Return to Work” Mean for Blue-Collar Workers?

The ability to work from home once COVID-19 hit was not created equally—and lower-income blue-collar workers have been hit the hardest by the pandemic.

Although over half of the jobs lost since February 2020 have now been recovered, many skilled workers and laborers are still navigating pandemic concerns. Recent staffing challenges and supply chain shortages have shed light on the unmet needs of essential workers—and employers need to change their mindset if they want to fuel blue-collar recruitment moving forward.

Along with health concerns, fears surrounding job security, and changing family dynamics, the shift toward remote work has highlighted the costs of on-site work to blue-collar workers. Blue-collar workers must juggle the costs of commuting, work attire, and eating out, which can add up to over $4,000 annually. What’s more, most on-site workers spend over 50 minutes commuting to and from the job site—time that remote workers could spend with family or on leisure.

Today, white-collar workers are gradually returning to the workforce that blue-collar workers never left. COVID-19 has changed work for everybody—and it’s time to adapt or get left behind.


Navigating Blue-Collar Recruitment in the Post-Pandemic Workforce

There’s no arguing that the pandemic has disproportionately impacted blue-collar workers. So, what does that mean for your recruitment strategy? 

While it’s not surprising that blue-collar workers aren’t easy to find, many organizations couldn’t have anticipated the impact of the pandemic on the sheer number of workers who have left the workforce. 

Even as blue-collar workers return to the workforce, the talent shortage remains. COVID-19 led to the largest 12-month decline in labor force participation since at least 1948, with over four million people leaving the labor force. Now, thanks to the rapid acceleration of eCommerce, the number of open blue-collar positions is higher than it was before the pandemic—and even higher than the number of available workers.

With so many organizations scrambling to find qualified talent, how can you cut through the noise? To fill open positions, you need to change your workforce practices to meet the changing priorities and obstacles in the blue-collar workforce.


How to Beat the Talent Shortage

Within the last decade, we’ve seen dramatic economic shifts have helped white-collar workers get ahead. It’s time to change your employer mindset and take proactive steps to support your blue-collar employees, too. 

In the post-pandemic workforce, it’s not enough to just change your onboarding process or listen to suggestions from blue-collar workers. Your organization needs to reanalyze long-established practices through a new lens to fuel blue-collar recruitment and employee retention in 2022 and beyond.

Here’s how to get ahead with innovative, effective new policies for blue-collar workers.


1. Offer More Scheduling Flexibility

As the world has rapidly embraced flexibility in the workplace, the same hasn’t held true for blue-collar workplaces—even though they’re the ones who need it most. Now more than ever, organizations must look at the needs of blue-collar workers, especially those of underrepresented groups who have opted out of the workforce. 

Unfortunately, experts often see a gap between organizations’ stated policies and their willingness to embrace flexibility, especially for blue-collar workers. How can you bridge that gap and start respecting your #1 asset?

Instead of adhering to strict scheduling requirements, understanding the need for time outside of work can help reduce disparities between on-site blue-collar workers and remote white-collar workers.

According to the 2021 Voice of the Blue Collar Worker survey, nearly three-quarters of respondents say they would trade an extra $1 per hour for five more paid days off. What’s more, the new generation of talent is often hesitant to apply for blue-collar work, as scheduling can be challenging for parents and students. By offering more paid time off and part-time scheduling options, you’ll open up new doors for next-gen talent

And if you want to take it even further, some other practices for adding flexibility to your workforce practices include:

  • Adding start time and end time flexibility
  • Allowing for variable-length shifts (shorter one day, longer the next)
  • Loosening overtime requirements
  • Creating a simple process for shift exchange
  • Encouraging a greater utilization of benefits, including family and sick leave


2. Provide Opportunities for Advancement

More and more blue-collar workers are being replaced by computers, robots, and machines. Especially in the post-pandemic workforce where uncertainty is rampant, it’s important to give your blue-collar workers the peace of mind that comes with job security.

What’s the best way to foster job security? Support your workers in their career paths. According to the Voice of the Blue-Collar Worker survey, nearly half of workers said that they see themselves working toward a leadership role with their employer or completing a degree in the next three months. Are you doing enough to keep your best workers around long-term?

If the answer is “no,” it’s time to start offering more opportunities for advancement. This isn’t just beneficial to your workers—it’s a win-win situation for everyone. Think about it: Blue-collar jobs aren’t easy to fill, and finding qualified workers can be tough.

When your recruitment strategy isn’t driving the results you want, upskilling your current workers provides several benefits:

  • A highly skilled new hire is likely at a higher risk for turnover than an employee who has demonstrated loyalty to your organization.
  • Depending on the skillset, upskilling an employee may be more cost-effective than recruiting, hiring, and training a new employee.
  • Opportunities for advancement play a huge role in employee loyalty. In fact, 72 percent of workers surveyed said they planned to continue working in their current industry.


3. Rethink Your Blue-Collar Wages and Benefits

When the talent shortage disrupts your recruitment strategy, competitive wages and better benefits motivate qualified workers to choose your company. The average wages for hourly, blue-collar workers have increased year after year over the last decade—and 2021 has been no different. 

As blue-collar talent becomes increasingly rare, rewarding your employees with competitive wages and benefits is crucial. In fact, competitive wages aren’t just recommended—they’re a key piece of the puzzle if you want to get employees through the door. When asked why they would accept a job, nearly one-third of blue-collar workers said the biggest factor was pay. At the end of the day, your pay rate can leave you trailing behind the competition.

Even though the average blue-collar pay has continued to increase, organizations could benefit from rethinking their pay rates. But how can you strike the perfect balance? 

To understand what other organizations are paying their blue-collar workers in your industry, start by reviewing local market wage data. And if wage increases are outside of your budget, try showing your workers how much you appreciate their hard work with tangible rewards, like gift cards and high-quality safety gear.


Take a New Approach to Post-Pandemic Recruitment

If we’ve learned anything over the past two years, it’s that we need to open our minds to change. 

To lock in the best chances of attracting the highly skilled, qualified talent necessary to move forward, you need to finetune your current practices and policies. Schedule a discovery call with our team to master your post-pandemic recruitment strategy.

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