A look into the workforce shortage

Workforce shortage requires a focus on retention and attraction

Employers of all sizes and in all industries are being challenged by a lack of available workers. The workforce shortage is a national issue with local implications. This shortage is holding back the economic recovery across many industries – even those doing well could be doing more with increased staffing levels. While our traditional economic metrics are doing well in Eagle County, addressing the workforce shortage must remain a top priority.

As we look at the workforce shortage, less than half of Americans polled who lost their job during the pandemic and remain unemployed say they are actively and consistently looking for work. According to a new poll produced by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, one in five reports that they are not looking for work at all. Fifty-six percent report that they believe they can get by for more than six months before it becomes essential to return to full-time work, with 11 percent saying it will be more than a year before it is necessary to return to work, and 15 percent saying it will never be essential.

“The poll comes as businesses continue to grapple with an ongoing worker shortage crisis.” The country currently has 10.4 million open jobs, and the quit rate reached an all-time high at 3 percent in September, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). There were 2.3 million fewer people in the workforce in October than there were in October of 2019, before the pandemic.

The Chamber’s poll of unemployed workers found that:

  • More than one in ten (13%) have left multiple jobs during the pandemic. 
  • “Among those who have held multiple jobs since April 2020, 57% held their most recent position for three months or less.”
  • “Nearly a third (32%) of unemployed workers said they would prefer to work in a different industry for their next job.

The formerly employed report using a combination of income sources from other members of their household (45%), stimulus payments received during the pandemic (48%), savings (47%), and unemployment benefits (36%) to get by. One-third of the formerly employed disagree with the statement that “it is essential to return to a full-time job as soon as possible.”

Locally, Eagle County’s total labor force and our labor force participation rate have decreased since the pandemic, and many of our leading job sectors have a talent deficit of more jobs than available workers. I continue to see more evidence of a worsening worker shortage when talking to business operators. Getting people back to work remains a priority for our community to achieve our customer service goals. Eagle County is a small sample size but is reflective of national trends.

Analysis by the U.S. Chamber found that quit rates were highest in accommodation and food service (6.6%); and in arts, entertainment, and recreation service (5.7%). This disproportionately impacts Eagle County as these are two of our larger job sectors.

What does this mean to us? Our future prosperity requires that national, state and local policymakers focus on how we concurrently retain our local workforce and how we expand the labor force.

Retention includes a focus on workforce development programs and addressing community issues such as early childhood, transportation and transit, and housing. Expanding the labor force requires building a meaningful talent pipeline program with our school district and addressing barriers to employment. We must also attract more qualified workers by increasing the cap on employment-based work visas. This balance of retention & expansion is necessary for our community to thrive.


Chris Romer is president & CEO of Vail Valley Partnership, the regional chamber of commerce. Learn more at VailValleyPartnership.com