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Labor Shortage

Economics at times can appear paradoxical, or contrarian, or just down right confusing. And rightfully so.

Labor Shortage

Look at today’s labor market. Although the unemployment rate is relatively low (4.4 percent according to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data), the employment rate – the percentage of able-bodied adults of working age who are actually working – is the lowest it’s been in decades.

Despite the low BLS number, it appears that everywhere you turn, there are people who are looking for work. Maybe they should talk to the companies who claim that they can’t find people to fill openings. When it seems like everyone knows someone is out of work (or worse, has been out of work) how can there be a labor shortage?

Part of it is geographic. We know a corporate recruiter who fills jobs across the country. She states that in some markets jobs are gobbled up within days, while the same positions – for the same company – in another part of the country may remain open for months.

What’s going on here? As is typical in many aspects of economics, the devil is in the details.

Not long ago The Wall Street Journal reported on the impact that Big Data is having on businesses and organizations throughout the world. The usual suspects were there – Facebook, Google and you might as well throw Amazon in as well.

But then, there was also Ford, Wal-mart and the New York City Building Department and even the Centers for Disease Control… and we won’t even mention the grand-daddy of information gatherers, sometimes referred to as “Big Brother,” in Washington D.C. Big Brother with Big Data – there’s a scary thought.

What does that have to do with labor? August business consultants McKinsey & Company were quoted as saying in The Wall Street Journal that the biggest impediment to Big Data is a critical shortage of people who can accurately analyze and interpret that data. People who can make some sense of it all and transform raw data into plans, actions and success.

Just as we all seem to be drowning in an ocean of data, are we gathering the information that we really need… and do we have people who adeptly can sift through it all to make some sense of it?

It would appear that we’ve mastered the machinations of gathering and storing data as well as the skills associated with slicing and dicing it, but apparently we’re coming up short when it comes to learning anything useful or substantial from it. That is, the human element. Once more, there are signs that our technology has outpaced our ability to use it productively.

Jim Tabaczynski JPT Group

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