A Labor Shortage of Online Proportions | National Catholic Registry

Will we base our lives and our economy on human needs or on distractions?

Among the many challenges facing our country today, the labor shortage is certainly one of the most important.

Recent information from the United States Chamber of Commerce indicates that while not all industries are suffering from a labor shortage, a number have been particularly hard hit, both in terms of quit rates and recruitment difficulties. Currently, there are between 35% and 70% vacancies in durable goods manufacturing, wholesale and retail trade, financial activities, professional and business services, leisure and hospitality.

While the pandemic (and the response to it) has been blamed for some of this, the reality is that even before COVID-19, a number of industries were already struggling to fill their workforces. A survey in 2016 HR professionals found that 68% had difficulty recruiting candidates for full-time positions, up from 50% in 2013. Low candidate numbers were cited as the biggest obstacle.

Over the past decade, there has been lots of theories and explanations on the reasons for the labor shortage – whether it’s an increase in wages, the desire for a more flexible working environment, an increased demand for services (in certain industries), from the financial compensation given to the unemployed or from a change in the goals and ideals of the labor force itself. Either way, I certainly don’t have the expertise and knowledge to provide an in-depth analysis of this.

But I think it’s worth providing some perspective to consider, especially since I’ve yet to see this addressed in the public domain.

First, to do this, let’s go back to the pre-COVID numbers on which industries are struggling the most to hire workers. The first four are:

  1. Highly qualified doctors, such as nurses, doctors and specialists;
  2. Scientists and mathematicians
  3. Skilled trades, such as electricians, carpenters, machinists, mechanics, welders, and plumbers
  4. Engineering and architecture

Recently I was having a discussion with a child about schooling as he was confused about when middle school came versus high school and elementary school. As I was clarifying when this was happening, he spontaneously said, “Oh, college is when you go to school, so you can drop out to be a YouTuber.” Needless to say, this led to another interesting discussion about the idea he had shared.

But as we were talking (and laughing) about this quote later in our service, one of my colleagues shared a link to a large, lavish home that had recently been purchased by an acquaintance who is a full-time YouTuber. While we all discuss this, we recognize that only a small percentage of YouTubers “make it big”, there’s no doubt that this little boy’s statement reflects a growing understanding (and desire) of his peer group .

Currently, the video game industry in the United States employees nearly 300,000 people. The number of people employed in this field has increased medium 7.4% over the past five years. Google itself has exceeded 100,000 employees in 2019, after increasing by 800% over the past decade. And according to to a report released in October 2021, nearly 400,000 people in the United States work 40 hours or more as a YouTube creator (and get paid for it). According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, that’s more than the number of dentists, librarians, or psychologists currently employed. Which, ironically (or not), are some of the positions we need the most.

Which brings us to a seminal point. While I think we could almost all agree that our world could (and did) work just fine without YouTube, video games, and Google, the same can’t be said if I can’t find someone to fix my car, teach my children or and my hernia. Yes, just like you, I regularly use Gmail and Google, and sometimes check YouTube for various reasons. But let’s be honest — I, my family and our communities don’t depend on these industries for our basic needs and wants. No matter where you are in the online world, I think even a third-grader like the one who mentioned dropping out of college to become a YouTuber can understand that in life there are necessities and there are luxuries (or distractions).

While I realize that the migration to online jobs is far from the only explanation for our labor shortage, I would argue that it is increasingly becoming part of the story. If I can (or think I can) make a lot of money in pajamas and set my own work schedule, then what exactly is going to motivate me to clean people’s plaque-covered teeth for 8 hours a day? (even though oral health is a really important need in our society)? This is not a rhetorical question, as I recently learned that 15 practices in our small town are currently looking for dental hygienists.

Once again, amidst all the promises we’ve heard about online technology, we’re at a crossroads. As we dive deeper and deeper into the virtual world, our real world is hollowing out from within. While part of me wants to congratulate YouTubers for making a profit by tapping into the mystical, unconscious, and sometimes embarrassing world of psychology, the other part of me wonders if they might still be interested in a real work. No offense intended, but I think you know what I mean.

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