As Minnesota continues to reopen under the Stay Safe MN Plan, businesses and employers of all sizes, industries and backgrounds are making adjustments to the size and makeup of their workforce. In support, DEED produced the Workforce Optimization Cycle (WOC), a process to identify the unique challenges to each business, and the best strategies when reestablishing their workforce.
As part of the Planning for Economic Recovery series, each week we expand on a different stage of the WOC. This week’s focus is stage 3: Workforce Gap Analysis. COVID has affected employers of all kinds differently, but for most businesses internal capacity and external markets have changed. These changes, in turn, will influence the size and look of their workforce. To ‘bridge the gap’, companies must design their path forward, set benchmarks and track progress toward labor optimization.
To outline these choices and set a plan, businesses would be wise to convene a Return to Work team made up of a diverse group of employees. The primary goal of such a group is to make preparations for various sets of workers to transition smoothly into new work conditions. Generally speaking, there are four groups of workers to prepare for: workers returning to location, those working remotely, workers eligible for future protections, and those permanently let go. Figure 1 illustrates this transition over time and the role of a Return to Work team in the restructure.
As plans are developed to return to work, employers should know their limitations. Decisions on who to recall are subject to discrimination laws based on age, gender, disability, race, creed or sexual orientation, and the requirements of COVID-19 Preparedness Plans may limit physical space.
Workers stepping forward to meet these unprecedented challenges are the most valuable resource a business has when navigating the conditions presented by COVID-19. Employers and their Return to Work team would serve themselves and their staff well by implementing inclusive and equitable practices during and after the transition period. Employees may have been directly impacted by COVID-19, or face new limitations that complicate their work-life balance. Part-time and flexible scheduling options can make the transition much easier while allowing employers to maintain critical personnel. However, unless an employer has a Shared Work contract with the state, employees returning part-time will not be able to earn more than their unemployment insurance (UI) benefit amount to continue receiving those payments while working. Typically, UI payments are approximately half of normal earnings.
To make these adjustments and keep up with demand, the Return to Work team may also have to reconfigure some roles and responsibilities. As part of the Stay Safe MN plan, those who can work remotely are to continue that way, which may help to outline any changes in duties. Where available, incumbent worker training resources through DEED’s regional workforce development partners may alleviate the costs of cross-training employees in new job functions. If an employer invests in new equipment, the Automation Training Incentive Pilot Program also has grant funds available for incumbent workers.
In any situation, genuine employee engagement is crucial to see the changes through. Providing the necessary training and resources for employees to succeed is a good step, but including employees in these decisions from the beginning is even better. By seizing on opportunities to improve workplace culture now, the Return to Work team will set the tone for the recovery and incur loyalty from employees moving forward.
Workers Not Returning
Some employees with barriers to work may be eligible for protection of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). The FFCRA is similar to traditional Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) protections, only with specific criteria related to COVID-19. Although employees on FFCRA leave aren’t available to return to work right away, this option provides wage reimbursement for eligible workers, allowing employers to keep them on staff. Employees, in turn, maintain job security and crucial health and pay benefits to help overcome said barriers for up to 12 weeks.
Unfortunately, economic conditions may lead to permanent layoffs in some cases. Resources for staff not returning, such as dislocated worker training, cobra insurance and early retirement options should be identified for them. By providing laid off workers with information about dislocated worker training and other public resources for career seekers, employers are placing them on track for expedient re-employment. For layoffs of fifty or more employees, DEED’s Rapid Response team will step in and connect workers to local training resources in order to match them with other employers who are hiring.
For employers contemplating permanent layoffs, the long-term state of the labor market is important to consider. Prior to COVID-19, DEED projected that the exodus of baby boomers from the labor market would create a major labor shortage through at least 2030. While the unemployment rate is unusually high right now, it’s likely to drop again as we learn to operate with COVID-19 safely. In fact, its possible COVID-19 will push baby boomers out of the labor force more quickly, causing it to re-tighten in the not so distant future.
Some companies may have an increase in demand and find themselves in a hiring position. Understanding Labor Market Information (LMI) is the first step to mapping out a talent pipeline. To track COVID-related changes to local labor markets, employers can refer to DEED’s Unemployment Insurance Statistics, an online data tool showing up to date information on the number of layoffs by county, occupation, and demographics. DEED’s Regional Labor Market Analysts are available to help employers work through this information, and provide data on topics such as regional wage levels for different occupations, and cost of living data based on family size and location. In addition, employers can promote themselves on Careerforcemn.com and post jobs on Minesotaworks.net, which are both designed to connect employers with job seekers, and have increased virtual services to kick-start the recovery.
Follow DEED’s Workforce Strategy Team as we look closer at each stage of the Workforce Optimization Cycle, talk with subject matter experts from organizations throughout the state, and share resources to help along the way. Visit the Workforce Optimization Cycle page for regularly updated content.
Workforce Strategy Consultant Author:
Chet Bodin - Workforce Strategy Consultant for NW Minnesota
Related CareerForceMN.com content: