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How Family-Friendly Workplace Policies Can Help Solve America’s Labor Shortage

Companies that institute family-friendly workplace policies will be more successful in recruiting and retaining the skilled talent they need, leading to a more robust performance for themselves and the overall economy.

Q3 2018
If you’ve tried to hire a skilled tradesperson lately, you know how scarce these workers have become. According to Manpower research, roughly 40 percent of U.S. employers report difficulty filling jobs because of the lack of labor, particularly in the skilled trades.

In April of this this year, a record 6.8 million positions remain open but unfilled. U.S. companies have been creating an average of between 150,000 and 200,000 net new jobs per month in recent years, and labor force growth is just keeping pace.

The workforce participation rate stands at 62.9 percent, and the participation of women in the workforce sits lower than the overall average at 57.6 percent. Even though the participation rate is rising, the current rate is still below the rates of the last 20 years. Of course, the 10,000 baby-boomers retiring each day skew the numbers, but the net result is nonetheless a very tight labor market.

Are Women the Answer to the Labor Shortage?
There are a variety of underlying issues driving the shortage, according to a recently released report by JLL. But one fact is hard to ignore — women are missing in action. Currently 18 million women are out of work, half of whom are educated, skilled, and more than qualified to enter the workforce.

U.S. Census data indicates 1.4 million prime-age American women with master’s or other advanced degrees were absent from the workforce as of 2017, compared to less than 473,000 prime-age men. Additionally, more than 3.3 million prime-age unemployed women had bachelor’s degrees, compared to less than 1.3 million prime-age unemployed men.

Why the disparity? Many highly qualified women are temporarily out of the workforce because they are caring for children or aging parents. Paid parental leave in the U.S. lags behind the family-friendly workplace policies of other developed nations, while affordable childcare can be elusive to find. And when women face inflexible work schedules or other workplace obstacles, taking time out for family is often a necessity.

Making It Easier for Parents to Stay in the Workforce
It’s clear that attracting women back to the workforce can make a big dent in the labor shortage. So how do we increase labor force participation among parents, particularly mothers?

To entice and retain women in the workforce, employers shaping the future of work should adopt policies and workplace strategies that make it easier for women — and men, too — to manage competing priorities. Competitive paid maternity and paternity leave is a start, but once women return to work after having a child, they need to feel supported. For example, a dedicated women’s room with a mini fridge, an outlet, and a comfortable chair can help breastfeeding mothers feel more comfortable at work.

On-site childcare can make it easier for parents to manage their workday with more convenient drop-off and pick-up arrangements — and increase employee satisfaction in the meantime. JLL’s Workplace – powered by Human Experience research found that 84 percent of employees who had access to on-site “spaces for small children” felt engaged at work, exceeding the average engagement rate of 65 percent.

While on-site childcare doesn’t make sense for every organization, flexible schedules and remote working are relatively easy ways to support workers who are juggling the demands of career and family life.

Organizations that offer flexibility for parents to care for a sick child or take a family member to doctor appointments are much more likely to retain their top performers. Corporations alone should not have to feel the burden of incentivizing women to stay in the workforce. The government can play a role by investing in family-driven community programs to cultivate a strong workforce. Ensuring access to quality education, childcare options, and open public space will attract working parents.

Reversing the Shortage = Big Gains for Commercial Real Estate and the Overall Economy

At a high level, a labor shortage generally leads to a less robust economy. It also means reduced productivity as employers wind up hiring workers who lack the optimal skills, experience or training for the work at hand. Those outcomes, in turn, reduce demand for commercial real estate. So, commercial property owners and investors should be concerned about the larger implications of slow labor force growth.

Conversely, if we were better able to match jobs and workers, property owners and investors would benefit along with the rest of the economy. By our projections, national office asking rents would rise by about 5 percent, and the average national office vacancy would fall by roughly 2 percent.

Investing in policies and support systems to keep women in the workforce can reap big dividends for an organization and the economy at large. Many companies, of course, are already taking steps, including creating engaging workplaces for the future of work.
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