The worker shortage continues to be felt across the hospitality industry and elsewhere. (Photo by Dan Burton via Unsplash)

Labor shortages have forced business owners to rethink how they get work done.

In a new survey of 1,250 U.S. business owners conducted by Digital.com, 87% said their business was affected by the current worker shortage.

The survey shows 75% of respondents have considered or already invested in automation solutions. Nearly as many (71%) have considered or already turned to outsourcing work to freelancers and offshore workers. And 71% also had implemented upskilling/reskilling programs to help current employees fill the needs of the company.

“Upskilling employees can be a great way to help businesses fill open positions. Current employees already understand the business culture and processes and have shown their dedication to the business,” said Huy Nguyen, marketing executive and consultant for Digital.com. “Providing proper skills training to the right person can be a great opportunity for both the employee and their employers.”

Jeff Seymour, economic development vice president for the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, said companies definitely are “reshuffling the deck and upskilling people.” Giving employees a new set of skills makes both the individual and company more agile, he said.

Companies also are tapping into new talent pools they haven’t used before. “They are being intentional about going to a more diverse population,” Seymour said. That includes formerly incarcerated people.

“It’s definitely an employee market right now,” he said.

Employers are willing to pay more particularly where the competition for candidates is really tight and for entry-level workers, Seymour said. Some companies also are offering more benefits, like paying employees’ college tuition.

Three of four survey respondents said they would be willing to pay higher wages to attract new workers, and they also would be willing to increase benefits for new employees. The results were divided on the issue of a $15/hour minimum wage – 59% said $15/hour is a fair minimum wage, while 22% maintain that it is too high.

Oklahoma’s state minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, the same as the current federal minimum wage rate.

Nguyen said the pandemic forced many businesses to adopt a fully remote work environment and new processes to ensure business continuity. Some of these processes have been permanently integrated into the business and companies now can hire new talent from anywhere in the world to bridge the labor gap, he said.

Additionally, many are using freelancers to handle special projects or offload specific tasks, which frees up existing employees to handle more core jobs.

Oklahoma City companies mostly fall in the middle when it comes to allowing employees to continue working remotely or requiring them return to the office, Seymour said.

“They are more willing to offer more flexibility, but want employees in the office for strategic conversations,” he said.

“Businesses have to be more creative,” Seymour said. “We’re still in a state of flux and everybody is trying to figure out what’s best for them.”

The hospitality industry has been among the hardest hit in Oklahoma and nationwide when it comes to a worker shortage.

“We are seeing hotels implement more automation,” Nguyen said. Mobile technology allows guests to check in through their phone, access their rooms without keys, and communicate with hotel staff through mobile messaging, which frees up hotel staff to provide a more personalized experience for guests, he said.

“The labor shortage is immediate and some of these solutions may take a longer time frame to implement; however, businesses are more motivated now to accelerate the adoption of new technology to future-proof their businesses,” Nguyen said.

Of the businesses surveyed, 16% are in the tech field (including consulting, information services, and software), 9% are in the business sector (including advertising, marketing, and finance), 8% are in manufacturing and construction, and 5% are in retail, hospitality, and food service. The remaining respondents were from a wide variety of professional backgrounds.