Some are calling it, “The Great Resignation.” Others are calling it “The Great Reshuffle.” After spending the past year as Executive Director of America Works, I’ve talked with more than 250 manufacturing workforce development professionals throughout the MEP National NetworkTM and our partners. Based on their insights, I’d like to propose a new name: “The Great Recognition.” As I’ll discuss in this post, employees, employers, and workforce development practitioners nationwide are all recognizing either new trends, or the amplification of existing ones, that are disrupting the American workforce in ways that are here to stay. By pivoting from ‘The Great Resignation’ – a negative term that implies that the problem lies with lazy workers – to ‘The Great Recognition,’ which captures how both employers and employees are learning and evolving, we as a nation can begin to directly address these challenges and take action to fill the 900,000 open jobs in manufacturing right now.
Regardless of what you call it, the numbers are staggering: In August alone, 4.3 million workers quit their job. According to The Wall Street Journal, “U.S. workers left their jobs nearly 20 million times between April and August this year, according to the latest federal data, a number more than 60% higher than the resignations handed in during the same period last year, and 12% above the spring and summer of 2019 when the job market was the hottest it had been in almost 50 years.” According to Business Insider, “Job transitions among Gen Z are up 80% year-over-year. For Millennials, they're up by 50%.”
So why am I proposing we think of this moment in history as “The Great Recognition?” Let’s start with workers, as employees nationwide are realizing:
Essentially, the turbulence of the past 18-plus months has led many workers, particularly those in low-wage jobs, “to reconsider what matters most in life, ultimately causing the workforce to shift.” At the same time, employers are going through their own Great Recognition, focusing on:
Let me be clear: Small manufacturers are ahead of the game here. Our four-day workweeks and flexible shifts can be very attractive to younger workers, working moms, and more. Companies that can rotate people through various jobs, and offer choice and new skill development, are exciting to many workers. Why not lead with that? And, while social connections may not be as motivating to younger workers as they were to previous generations, that doesn’t mean we should ignore them completely. Introducing new employees around your small company, and making time for them to build relationships, will make them feel valued and that they belong in your workplace.
At the same time, this moment has challenged small manufacturers to think of how they approach both their workforce, and the work itself. Can we learn from the Uber model and turn certain aspects of manufacturing into “gig work”? Can we offer more flexibility, meaning, belonging, and innovation in our workplaces? And given that these are tall orders for any company, what might we do to compensate for what we can’t change?
Regardless of what we call it, today’s workforce challenges constitute a Great Recognition, a Great Realization, and a Great Reckoning. I’ll let Amanda Cage, CEO of the National Fund for Workforce Solutions, have the last word: “It is time to build an economy around working people; one that is holistic and recognizes workers’ humanity. I’m hopeful that we can get there together.”