Can this workforce be saved? Here’s why American workers are quitting en masse

In western North Dakota, a young nurse who has always dreamed of seeing the world decides to quit a stable job in Bismarck, prepare her young family, and take a travel nurse position for $ 90 an hour .

A Fargo teacher, frustrated with trying to connect with students through distance learning, decides to completely change careers and pursue a career as a nurse.

In Arizona, a North Dakota snowbird who has worked in marketing for over 45 years notices that her client load keeps getting lighter – and decides she doesn’t mind. She prefers to play pickleball and retire smoothly.

These are just a few of the working stories around the COVID-19 pandemic. The virus has been like a giant boot overturning an anthill – and we are the ants, running frantically, seeking some sense of order and wondering if the world around us will ever be the same.

So it’s no wonder that today’s landscape is so new and strange. “Help Wanted” signs are everywhere, with restaurants and stores cutting hours due to understaffing. Employment specialists complain that people won’t take a job if they don’t pay at least $ 15 an hour. As of April, workers are voluntarily leaving their jobs at an unprecedented rate of 4 million people – that’s more people than the populations of Minneapolis-St. Metro Paul-Bloomington – per month.

Jill Berg, CEO of Spherion Staffing, which has offices in North Dakota and Minnesota, says this employee hemorrhage, commonly referred to as The Great Resignation, is unprecedented.

“What we need to do is figure out how we’re going to flip that switch and turn this big resignation into big retention, because if we don’t do that we won’t be able to survive as a country,” Berg said during the interview. ‘a press conference. Concordia College webinar titled “The Big Quit” in November.

So what is the problem? Are American Workers Too Right? Or is this real culprit a profit-driven corporate culture that has left too many employees feeling overlooked, undervalued, and expendable?

Help Wanted series logo

Help Wanted series logo

The answer probably lies somewhere in between. It looks like COVID has sparked more than a big resignation; he also inspired a Great Judgment. The virus has been a double-edged sword – killing people, disrupting the economy and spreading fear on the one hand, but shutting down the world long enough for people to dare to ask existential questions they might not have. – never be asked otherwise.

“People really see it through a different filter here,” says Berg. “They see what’s important in my life? Is my health important? Is my family important? Is my safety important? What are these things? And maybe it’s not the working day 12 hour working day or the eight hour working day. ”

In the case of Kari Schaaf, the registered labor and delivery nurse who chose to become a travel nurse, the allure of a salary of $ 90 an hour and the ability to explore different parts of the country was too powerful. to resist. Schaaf has wanted to travel the world since she was young, even persuading her husband, Danny, to spend their honeymoon in Thailand. The adventure of living elsewhere seemed particularly enticing after two years of wrapping oneself in masks, gloves and dresses; watch her colleagues split into pro and anti-vaccine camps and watch unvaccinated mothers fall seriously ill from the virus.

Schaaf says she will be missed by her family in North Dakota and at her workplace. But she’s excited about her new job, which begins with a 13-week assignment in Seattle. She doesn’t think this work could have happened without the conditions created by the pandemic. “I’m not sure it would have been possible to provide for the whole family before COVID, as the salaries of travel nurses have skyrocketed because of it,” she says.

Kari Schaaf, pictured here in front of the Missouri River in Bismarck with her husband, Danny, and their son, Blixen, will temporarily move to Seattle for Kari's first posting as a travel nurse.  (Contributed / Kari Schaaf)

Kari Schaaf, pictured here in front of the Missouri River in Bismarck with her husband, Danny, and their son, Blixen, will temporarily move to Seattle for Kari’s first posting as a travel nurse. (Contributed / Kari Schaaf)

Labor shortage is not a new phenomenon

North Dakota and Minnesota – known for their strong work ethic – have some of the lowest unemployment rates in the country. North Dakota has the 13th lowest unemployment rate in the United States with a seasonally adjusted rate of 3.3%, while Minnesota lags closely at just 3.5%, according to November figures from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“No one is treating this so-called sauce train,” says Carey Fry, director of the North Dakota Job Service’s Workforce Development Center in Fargo, in response to criticism that the federal stimulus payments and government credits The child care tax has turned Americans into profiteers. “It doesn’t happen.”

Studies suggest people are leaving for better paying, more flexible jobs or a healthier work culture. “It’s not just about quitting for the sake of quitting, it’s about finding a better job,” Gregory Daco, chief US economist at Oxford Economics, told The New York Times.

Fry also points out that the pandemic has only created the tipping point for a workforce that has been shrinking for years.

People really see it through a different filter here. Do they see what is important in my life? Is my health important? Is my family important? Is my safety important? What are these things? And it might not be the 12 hour work day or the eight hour work day.

On the one hand, the law of supply and demand has given American workers a new boost in bargaining power. Employers need to dig deeper into their pockets to pay workers, who may have already juggled multiple minimum-wage jobs to pay rent, but can now find positions starting as low as $ 15.

Joyce Norals, vice president and director of human resources for Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota, also spoke at Concordia’s webinar on “The Big Quit”. Norals believes that one positive development in the labor shortage is that it has forced the system to pay the working poor better.

“The upside is that it has helped the organization and public policies to help set the minimum wage as a living wage,” she says.

On the other hand, many small businesses cannot afford these salaries. And the workers who suffer the most are those stuck in the middle – the reliable pillars who always present themselves, as well as the middle managers who are caught between achieving organizational goals while taking over left behind by skeletal staff.

The causes range from demographic changes to personal epiphanies

This unprecedented labor shortage is causing everyone to scramble to find the cause.

Some of them represent a simple demographic shift: Many older workers retired prematurely when COVID hit. At the same time, families are smaller, which means fewer young workers are entering the workforce, says Fry.

And among that smaller population, fewer high school and college students – who traditionally held many restaurant and hospitality jobs – are choosing to enter the workforce these days.

Young people seem to have more academic pressure and extracurricular choices, or their parents no longer expect them to find a job, says Fry. More and more students are studying remotely from other communities.

And once these young people graduate from colleges in North Dakota, it can be difficult to keep them here. Many graduates are flocking to the big cities, with the promise of higher salaries and more social and entertainment options.

“We are competing with all the states in this country for workers. What will make them want to come to North Dakota or Fargo-Moorhead and take a job here? Said Fry.

Other commonly cited reasons for worker departures are difficulty obtaining reliable child care, reluctance to get vaccinated, safety concerns related to the pandemic, and workers’ tendency to quit. to work for themselves.

But for some, it is an internal desire to feel valued and to have the impression of occupying the right position. The term “leaving the epiphany” was coined for those who have made drastic career changes in the midst of COVID.

Fry’s own daughter experienced this after months of struggling to get students involved while teaching English from a distance in high school. After listening to her cousin enthusiastically talk about her nursing degree, Fry’s daughter informed her mother that she would be completing the teaching year, but also taking the prerequisite courses to enter the accelerated program. Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Concordia College.

“She said to me, ‘I just reevaluated what I wanted to do, and I think that’s really what I want and so I do it,” says Fry.

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