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Business Growth Strategies

Meet Labor Market Challenges By Adapting To New Expectations And Technology

10 Minute Read

While the balance of power could shift at any time, employees and job candidates across many industries remain well positioned with employers in today’s labor market. So, in this challenging environment, how should business leaders respond to continue to attract and retain the right employees?

The answer, according to panelists participating in an October 2022 online CEO Forum sponsored by Union Bank, is by exhibiting both flexibility and curiosity. Business leaders, the panelists suggested, need to adopt new policies to meet evolving employee expectations — particularly around remote work — and explore how emerging metaverse technologies can enhance the employee experience.

‘It’s tough to find people’

To understand today’s labor market, start with the unemployment rate, which in October stood at only 3.7%. Dig a little deeper, according to panelist Paul McDonald, Senior Executive Director at Robert Half, the world’s largest specialized staffing firm, and you find the rate for college graduates is under 2%. What’s more, for professionals in certain fields, such as accounting and financial management, the unemployment rate drops down closer to 1%.

The impact? “It’s tough to find people,” and when you do you find a potential employee, it’s generally a very competitive situation, McDonald said. “They have choices. The candidates you are after probably have two or three other companies they are interviewing with right now.”

Making the situation even more challenging, about 4 out of 10 employees are actively searching for a new role or plan to by the end of the year, according to Robert Half research.

Remote is here to stay

The panelists agreed one of the best ways to win over current employees and candidates is to embrace remote work for jobs where it is feasible.

Brian Van Schijndel, Managing Director, Human Resources, at Union Bank and the forum’s moderator, referred to the new hybrid/remote workplace fostered by the pandemic as “the most impactful shift in the workforce in decades” and agreed with the other panelists that “remote is here to stay.”

“If a company has brought its employees back into the office five days a week, that’s a differentiator in a negative way as far as attracting talent,” Van Schijndel said.

For employers, the benefits of seeking to hire fully remote workers include receiving 54% more applications and engaging in a hiring process that’s 34% faster, Robert Half research indicates.

Pendulum swings toward hybrid

McDonald said the workplace model gaining the greatest traction is a hybrid approach where employees work remotely some days and come into the office on others. This hybrid approach gives employees the advantage of working from the comfort of their homes and avoiding commutes on some days, while maintaining benefits of office time that accrue to both them and their employer.

“The hybrid model can build culture on those days that you bring people into the office,” McDonald explained. “When you bring them in for training, for instance, those employees are enjoying the connectivity of meeting people face to face.”

According to a Robert Half global study conducted in summer 2022, 70% of business leaders expect their companies will be embracing a hybrid working model 10 years from now, up from just 22% before the pandemic.

Continuous professional development

Strong professional development programs are another in-demand perk that make an employer more attractive, McDonald said.

Some business leaders hesitate to upskill and reskill, fearing their organizations will spend to give employees new skills they can use to find jobs elsewhere. But McDonald takes the opposite position.

“I like upskilling and reskilling individuals, especially if they are employees in good standing who are a cultural fit, who you’ve trained, and who have done good work,” he said. “Why not invest in them and incur those costs as opposed to going external to find someone? Too many people look external first and only then look at their internal employee base.”

Being a company that invests in current employees with an eye toward their future is an attractant, McDonald said. In fact, he urges leaders at his company, when they are recruiting candidates from within their own networks, to promote Robert Half’s retraining efforts.

“Personally, I feel very valued when the organization puts the effort into not only making training available to me, but pushing and encouraging me to do it,” added the other panelist, Chris Rolph, Global Metaverse Banking Go-To-Market Lead at Accenture, the global professional services giant. “Making that investment is so critical to the sense of belonging you want your people to have.”

Harnessing the metaverse

Rolph extolled the value of using metaverse technologies as a differentiator to attract and retain employees. He described Accenture’s groundbreaking efforts to establish the world’s largest internal metaverse and how it’s enhancing the company’s labor strategies.

The metaverse encompasses a variety of emerging technologies, including extended reality, artificial intelligence, digital currencies, distributed ledger and tokenization, gaming and others. “You can use different applications depending on what your business and customers are doing,” Rolph explained.

Supported by the 60,000 virtual reality headsets Accenture has distributed to employees, the company’s metaverse is comprised of a variety of virtual environments “that our people can reach out to and explore and have different experiences in,” he said. Some metaverse applications at Accenture have included:

  • Virtual onboarding. New hires don their headsets and join other new employees to virtually walk together on a guided tour through One Accenture Park, the virtual world the company has created to provide an onboarding experience. Lessons taught during this experience include the company’s business code of ethics and, from a cultural perspective, how the company engages with clients.
  • Cybersecurity adventure. As part of their cybersecurity training, new hires embark on a journey through virtual reality worlds to defend against hackers, scammers, fraudsters and cyber bullies.
  • Skills training. Virtual reality experiences replace traditional training videos and in-person classes to teach employees new skills.
  • Emergency preparedness. To gain disaster skills, participants step into the shoes of an employee at a virtual nuclear power facility when a nuclear meltdown is accidentally triggered. This simulation prepares employees for real emergencies in a low-cost, controlled environment.
  • Wellness. Virtual reality workouts, including activities such as yoga and boxing, enhance employee’s physical and mental fitness and let them exercise as a community.

Stanford University research suggests an immersive virtual reality experience is more engaging and produces 75% higher learning retention compared to traditional in-person schooling. It also fosters a sense of togetherness and connectedness among trainees and their colleagues, even though they often live in different locations, Rolph noted.

Stay curious

An organization’s approach to adopting metaverse technologies to attract the best talent must necessarily be scaled to the size of the business, McDonald offered. But in any case, he said, business leaders need to be asking relevant questions about these technologies: What’s realistic to offer your employees today? What kind of investments can you make this year and next? How can you take some of the new best practices and technologies and integrate them into your business in an affordable way?

Ultimately, McDonald said, as companies address the challenges of the labor market, it’s important for business leaders to stay curious about new technology and emerging best practices. Get out of your silo and attempt to understand what’s going on in the world around you, he advised.

“It doesn’t mean you have to implement everything right now,” he said. “But curiosity will win the day.”


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the panel participants and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Union Bank, its subsidiaries or affiliates.


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