Where Are the Workers? New survey will ask thousands of real people to find out

CLEVELAND, Ohio — No one seems to know how to solve the labor shortage, but the Fund for Our Economic Future is embarking on an important step to find solutions in Northeast Ohio.

The regional economic organization is launching Where Are the Workers?, a multi-phase project aimed at giving employers deeper insights than standard workforce data. It will get started by surveying companies and asking thousands of work-aged adults what they want and need.

“This is about uncovering those things that matter to workers that just aren’t visible” to businesses and policy makers, said Bethia Burke, president of the Fund.

Worker shortages are no secret. There were 11 million job openings in November and 4.6 million quits across the country, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Ohio had 389,000 job openings in November, the second highest it has ever had.

There are plenty of guesses about why this trend persists. Childcare costs, health concerns, increased stimulus money and workers rethinking their careers have all been put forth as possible reasons. Burke said more localized, robust information is needed to understand and solve the issue.

The organization plans to get that data by surveying 3,700 to 4,900 potential workers across 11 counties, a goal that will likely cost between $250,000 and $500,000, Burke said.

“This is the kind of strategic intelligence that’s really helpful if you’re trying to solve talent problems on a regular basis,” she said.

The Fund is working with Team NEO, ConxusNEO, PolicyBridge and the Summit & Medina Workforce Area Council of Governments on the project, which has a multi-pronged approach.

A survey for area businesses launched Friday. (Businesses can participate at the link Burke said the organization hopes to get participation across retail, hospitality, manufacturing, office and other sectors.

After both the businesses and potential workers are surveyed, Burke said they’ll hold series of conversations and focus groups to dig deeper into solutions.

Burke said the end results should “build a bridge between working-age adults and businesses” that will make solutions more actionable.

Already underway is the Fund’s research of national data to see what it can explain about Northeast Ohio’s labor market, and what it can’t.

Blog posts discussing the scan are posted to the Fund’s website, looking at what labor shortage theories exist and whether they hold weight. Where national data can’t provide conclusions, the local data will hopefully fill in gaps.

One thing this survey will hopefully do, Burke said, is contact the people companies are trying to get to apply or come into work, but can’t reach.

“How do you know what matters to people that you aren’t recruiting and who aren’t joining your workplace?” Burke said.

Jacob Duritsky, vice president of Strategy and Research at Team NEO, said the project will hopefully add some “meat on the bone” when it comes to understanding the local economy.

Right now, economic development organizations are operating off broad data and anecdotal stories. Duritsky said that when he gives talks about how wages are up 20% to 30%, business owners in his audience say they are having different experiences.

The worker survey especially, he said, will give real insights instead of anecdotes.

“Data gives us good information to have relevant, meaningful conversations,” Duritsky said.

Economists and researchers will regularly point toward national, government produced data sets. Duritsky said this survey can cast a light on some of the shortcomings national data has.

While Team NEO regularly speaks with business owners, it’s hard to know if the one you’re talking to is the experiencing the norm or is the outlier, Duritsky said.

It isn’t common for regions to do these surveys because they’re expensive, Duritsky said. But doing it can give the region a leg up.

Burke said these kinds of surveys tend to buck or disprove business leaders’ beliefs. The Fund already saw that in action when it worked on public transportation.

Business leaders would tell the Fund that very few of their employees took the bus to work. But when surveyed, many of them did. Those insights led directly into the Fund’s work on the transportation paradox. “No car, no job. No job, no car.”

Surveying workers will identify similar paradoxes, she predicted.

An example could be childcare, Burke said. Many people may have assumed child care issues were resolved when daycare centers and schools reopened. But if a student or classroom is quarantined, that could greatly affect the parents’ ability to work. That uncertainty changes how parents have to think about working, Burke said.

These initiatives will take about four months from start to finish, but Burke said The Fund plans to report out what it finds as it moves ahead.

“We don’t think it will be three to four months before we start seeing some information,” she said.

Read original release here.

McDonnell, Sean. (2021, December 19) Where Are the Workers? New survey will ask thousands of real people to find out.  Retrieved from