The employment cunundrum: “Workers, workers everywhere … and ‘nary one to hire.”

Labor shortage in the midst of high unemploymentThese days, conservative estimates are that ~13 million Americans are seeking employment. And yet, more U.S. companies are reporting that they can’t find qualified workers to fill their open positions.

In fact, more than half of American employers surveyed by Manpower Group, a leading staffing group, report that they’re having trouble hiring qualified workers. That’s nearly 40% higher than what was reported in the company’s 2010 survey.

The most obvious reason for the incongruity is the disconnect between the background and capabilities of available workers and the skill sets companies are seeking.

But there may be a few other factors at work as well. Spokespersons for Manpower Group suspect the following:

 The 2009 recession made it very easy for companies to find qualified candidates … but those days are now over.

 Employers are less willing to invest the time or dollar resources to train new employees for specialized or unique work.

 Employers may be less willing to hire candidates from outside their area so as to avoid incurring relocation expenses … even as job candidates may also be less willing to consider moving because of the soft housing market.

Melanie Holmes, a Manpower vice president, puts it this way: “Employers are getting pickier and pickier. We want the perfect person to walk through the door.” She and other specialists contend that companies need to get more realistic about the situation and react accordingly.

The Manpower survey results were part of a large global research study of ~40,000 employers worldwide. The trends it sees of greater difficulties in hiring were clearly evident in several other countries, besides just the U.S. (India, U.K. and Germany), whereas in China the trend was just the opposite.

More results from the 2011 Manpower Group survey can be found here.

U.S. Workforce Trends: Revenge of the Gray-Hairs

A new study by the Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends unit reveals that when it comes to working, U.S. senior citizens aren’t ready to leave the stage. Instead, they’re staying on for encore after encore.

Incredibly, the Pew study forecasts that nearly 95% of the growth of the American labor force over the next eight years will be among workers age 55+.

What’s behind this interesting demographic development – one that has actually been taking shape for some time now? I think it’s three things:

Americans are living longer and staying healthier longer
Most seniors wish to stay active and productive as long as possible
The economic climate

This last factor has been particularly acute with the current recession that has caused the loss of retirement investment balances and real estate values. This is underscored in the Pew survey, where nearly two thirds of workers in their 50s reported that they might need to push back their expected retirement date because of the current economic conditions.

But the Pew study also makes clear that once the recession lifts, it’s highly unlikely that the aging of the workforce will reverse. That’s because many seniors find that working satisfies fundamental social needs like “being with other people” (56%), “feeling useful” (68%), and “giving me something to do” (57%).

By contrast, the other workers surveyed by Pew (ages 16 to 64) see themselves working “to support myself and my family” (88%), “live independently” (78%), and “to qualify for a pension or Social Security” (65%).

All of which proves that as people mature and move through the cycle of life, many of them make a shift in their perspective: “Work to Live” becomes “Live to Work.” For someone just entering the workforce, that might be laughably hard to believe … but the Pew survey results bear it out.

And another takeaway message to younger workers: Don’t expect your older colleagues to exit the scene anytime soon … the competition’s still hot ‘n heavy.