Businesses likely will face tight labor market challenges, especially when it comes to filling senior leadership positions, as the nation continues to recover from the pandemic, according to results of a recent survey commissioned by Oklahoma City-based Express Employment Professionals.

According to the survey, conducted by The Harris Poll, those who make hiring decisions believe it will be somewhat easier to fill entry-level jobs, but challenges will remain there as well and may affect the flow of workers into midlevel positions later on. Decision-makers also indicated in the survey that businesses will be affected by influences of growing numbers of independent contractors.

Among businesses planning to hire this year, more than 3 in 5 (68%) responded in the survey that it should be fairly easy to recruit and fill entry-level positions.

“Recruiting at all levels is difficult, but unskilled workers are slightly more available than other skill levels right now,” said Greg Sulentic, an Express franchise owner in Lincoln, Nebraska. “Companies that are open to broader skill and background requirements are putting themselves in the best possible position for recruiting success.”

Sulentic said senior-level positions are always difficult to fill in his market, but the drop in labor force participation has accelerated the trend further. He said midlevel roles are the ones he is truly worried about.

“I believe we will experience a massive shortage in the pipeline for midlevel employees that is even more extreme than what we are finding today,” he said. “This will be the result of the current shortage in employees entering the workforce and the lack of trained, skilled employees to move from entry-level to midlevel. However, senior-level will continue to be the most difficult simply due to an aging workforce retiring at greater rates.”

Labor markets also are being affected by influences of independent contractors, the survey found.

Jon Noceda, an Express franchise owner in Chula Vista and San Diego, California, said independent contractor positions are the most difficult to fill in his market because available contractors only focus on short-term positions that pay the most. He predicted that will be a permanent result of the pandemic.

“This shift is already happening and will continue to evolve,” he said. “Several sub-industries are being created across the economy, such as logistics and e-commerce, due to the development of apps and other service-related businesses.”

Noceda said many people who traditionally worked in offices have adjusted over the past year to a work-from-home model.

“They now have access to resources within their homes to do individual work that they weren’t comfortable with previously,” he said. “These tools can be applied to freelance work more easily than in the past, and marketing those skills is easier due to broader use of social media.”

It’s possible Express CEO Bill Stoller said in a media release, that the shift toward more independent contractors may actually alleviate some difficulties hiring managers might have in filling midlevel or more senior positions later on.

“(It) could be beneficial for those looking to obtain experience and training in several different industries,” Stoller said. “The rise of these ‘gig workers’ provides wonderful opportunities that will hopefully translate into a more skilled workforce to fill those senior positions, (and) more skilled workers to replace those retiring is crucial to our economy.”

According to the release, the survey was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll on behalf of Express Employment Professionals between March 23 and April 12 among 1,001 U.S. hiring decision-makers.