Is America About to Have a Major Labor Shortage?

People check out a store.

With the unemployment rate in America hovering around 3.9% -- well below the 5.2% to 6% considered " full employment " -- it has become harder for companies to fill open positions. That has in some cases pushed wages higher, and it has forced a number of large-scale employers to offer improved benefits, including helping workers pay for college .

And while the idea of "full employment" can be debated, there are currently 6.9 million job openings and 6.2 million unemployed workers, according to recent reports by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). That's going to present major challenges for companies including Target , UPS , FedEx , and Macy's , which plan to hire tens of thousands of workers for the 2018 holiday season.

This creates a situation where an already stressed labor market will be pushed to the breaking point. There simply aren't enough workers to fill every open position.

"Many brick & mortar retailers have so many open jobs that they're focusing on filling them in phases, out of fear they will never fill them all," wrote JazzHR human resources director Corey Berkey in an email to The Motley Fool. "This doesn't even begin to address seasonal shortages for online retailers and shippers."

People check out a store.

Retail jobs will be available this holiday season. Image source: Getty Images.

What can companies do?

Finding people to fill open positions will require companies to be open to different types of employees. That includes workers at "both ends of the age spectrum," Berkey wrote.

"Both younger and older workers will have to be tapped to fill seasonal positions to a degree we've never before seen," he wrote. "Additionally, as businesses feel the pain of a tightly constrained labor market, we will likely see wages pushed up further for seasonal positions, which may grab the attention of more college and high-school aged workers who otherwise would have enjoyed time away from classes during holiday breaks."

In addition, while the BLS numbers show how many job openings there are, that's not the entire employment story. AJ Brustein, COO of on-demand staffing platform Wonolo, explained where an influx of workers might come from in an email to The Motley Fool:

Workers have leverage

Whether they're seeking seasonal or permanent jobs, workers who are part of in-demand professions have an incredible amount of leverage. That's going to force companies to shift how they recruit.

"There will be a shortage of people," Brustein wrote. "The companies that understand the power model is shifting to the worker, while still meeting market needs, will be the ones that can capture the talent they need. Workers have more transparency and leverage than ever before and won't be duped into taking the first job they see."

As a job seeker, be deliberate but decisive. Know what you want, whether it be a foot in the door through seasonal work or a permanent position. Factor in wages, benefits, and job quality -- then make a decision.

And remember: The leverage is in the hands of the workers now, but the job market is ever-changing. Automation, a shifting economy, or other developments could give the leverage back to employers.

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Daniel B. Kline has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends FedEx. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy .

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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