Understanding Northern Colorado’s Workforce Shortage

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Jonson Kuhn | North Forty News

Are you looking for a job?  If you are then you’re certainly in luck because Larimer County has no shortage of them to offer; a shortage of jobs isn’t the problem at all, it’s having a shortage of people to fill them that’s the problem. According to the United States Federal Reserve, Larimer County unemployment rate is at 2.60%, compared to 3.10% last month and 5.30% last year. This is said to be overall lower than the long-term average of 4.33%.

Fort Collins Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Ann Hutchison recently wrote a blog outlining the latest detailed look at unemployment all throughout Northern Colorado; the data was compiled in collaboration with Alexander Research & Consulting and the Economic Tracker found at NoCoRecovers.com.  It clearly shows the current state of unemployment is considered to be “full employment” and Northern Colorado is considered to be making continual progress towards recovery, so the question then becomes why are so many employers having such a hard time finding workers to fill these vast positions?

  • Northern Colorado continues to make progress towards recovery even as, nationally, worries of another recession loom on the horizon.
  • The unemployment rate is well within what is considered full employment. The unemployment rate has dipped below 3% in Larimer County and is at 3.4% in Weld County.
  • The civilian labor force in the region is larger than it was, on average, in 2019.
  • Although the number of unique job postings fell in April, it is more than double its 2019 average. Regionwide, there are three job postings for every unemployed worker, a sign of a very tight labor market.
  • In Larimer County, the number of jobs is 2.4 percent above the 2019 average while in Weld County, it is 4.7% below. Mining, Logging, and Construction is the sector that has gained the most jobs in Larimer County but has lost the most jobs in Weld County. Leisure & Hospitality, Professional & Business Services, and Retail Trade are the big winners in terms of job growth. State Government (in particular Educational Services) and Information are the big losers.
  • Average Hourly Earnings continue to climb in Larimer County but have remained flat in Weld County since the initial decline in 2020.
  • Retail Sales continue to rise in both counties, which is a reflection of both sales volume and rising prices.

Adam Crowe, an Economic Development Manager with Larimer County Economic & Workforce Development, says that while the pandemic and the “Great Resignation” have made clear contributions to a shortage of available employees, it doesn’t answer for the majority of the problem and, in fact, it’s actually a problem the entire country has seen coming decades before the pandemic even happened.

“It’s a very complex situation[…]it’s really a generational and demographic issue at its heart. When we look at the different generations, our baby boomers, even the youngest of them, are retiring and many of them are choosing not to come back to the workforce.”

As Adam explained, often in the past when people would retire, they would still return to the workforce at least on a part-time basis to some extent, taking the edge off of most labor needs, but after COVID one of the changes the nation is now seeing is that many people who are retiring are simply doing just that and not returning to work in any capacity; it’s an issue that Adam says is COVID related but more so a long-term demographic challenge that trickles down with each generation.

“If we look at our next generation, (Generation X), they are one of the smaller generations that we have, which means they’re one of the smaller generations in the workforce[…]And then if we look at our millennials, which would be our next generation, there aren’t as many millennials as there are baby boomers, but they’re still learning and they’re still building skills and there’s simply not enough of them to fill the gap that is being left by our largest generation[…]When we talk about the term that was being used a decade ago, the ‘Silver Tsunami’ when we started to see people retire, we’re feeling the effects of that and this is the outcome of the fact that we have a demographic shift where we have more people leaving the workforce than people coming into it and it really has to do with age more than anything,” Adam explained.

Because of this generational gap, it’s likely that Colorado along with many other states throughout the country will continue to see a labor shortage, which is why it’s now more important than ever for businesses to be adaptable and find ways to still exist within this newer economic climate, which Adam says is achieved by companies being willing to ask hard questions of themselves.  For instance, how do companies make themselves more competitive in the job market and overall more attractive to employees, how can companies think about restructuring if they’re not able to find the workers needed, and lastly, if possible and the specific industry allows for it, how can moves be made towards automation as an option.

Luckily resources such as the Larimer County Workforce & Development exist because they’re in a unique position to not only help companies answer those very types of questions, but also help assist those employees who for whatever reason might be struggling to find their right fit.

“For people who are looking for work or just looking for a transition, that’s something we specialize in[…]if someone is looking for work, if they’re thinking about transitioning, or if they have decided they want to get back into the world of work, we’re definitely here to help and we have some great services and great staff to assist,” said Adam.

Whether you’re an employee or employer, if you have questions and would like more information or assistance in moving forward, you’re encouraged to visit the Larimer County Workforce & Development at larimer.org/ewd.