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Labor Department Encourages Employers to Improve Job Quality to Address Labor Shortages

  • Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh announces the Good Jobs initiative, which aims to improve job quality
  • Walsh says quits have been elevated in jobs with lower wages and greater worker risks, and that there is a need to address long-term trends that have come to a head
  • Initiative will provide resources and information to workers, employers, and federal agencies

Summary by Dirk Langeveld

The Department of Labor is zeroing in on job quality to help address labor shortages and stem worker departures, launching an initiative to provide information to employees, businesses, and government entities on the issue.

Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh introduced the “Good Jobs” initiative in remarks delivered to the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Walsh said the effort aims to improve job quality as well as access to union jobs.

“Working people across the country want better opportunities, and demand more from their work. Many businesses understand these new expectations and are seeking the right tools to meet the moment,” said Walsh. “During this historic economic recovery, we can work together to provide opportunities in every community in our nation.”

Walsh noted how the COVID-19 pandemic has created significant disruptions for both employees and businesses, including workers contracting the virus, school closures or loss of child care, a shift to remote work arrangements, and mental health concerns. He said that while workers between the ages of 25 and 54 are returning to the labor force at a higher rate than in previous economic recoveries, there are also long-term trends that are coming to a head and other shifts that need to be addressed.

A key cause of concern over the past year has been the record number of people quitting their jobs, a phenomenon dubbed the “Great Recession.” The improvement in the labor force participation rate has been lagging compared with the decline in unemployment, with many businesses struggling to find qualified applicants to fill open positions.

Walsh said quits are largely tied to job quality, with people leaving positions with lower pay and hazards such as increased risk of exposure to COVID-19, in pursuit of better, higher paying opportunities elsewhere. He said job quality is also linked to equity, since low-wage positions are disproportionately held by women, people of color, and minorities.

Other factors Walsh highlighted as impacting the labor force included an accelerated rate of retirements brought on by the pandemic, the growth of entrepreneurship as more people go into business for themselves, and pressures brought on by health care and child care needs. Walsh said these trends show the need to address issues such as retirement security, protections against age discrimination, connecting business owners to training programs and other resources, and providing affordable child care and paid family and medical leave.

The Good Jobs initiative will provide information to workers on their rights, including the ability to form a union and bargain collectively, and form partnerships across federal agencies while providing technical assistance on grants, contracts, and other investments intended to improve job quality. It will also engage with employers on improving job quality, hiring and retaining workers, and providing career pathways to good jobs.

The effort will include guidance on federal regulations such as anti-discrimination and equal employment opportunity laws. It will also apply to contracts for hundreds of construction projects expected to be funded through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

“We are going to work across federal agencies to build job quality standards into government contracting and grant making,” said Walsh. “That means not just minimum wages but prevailing wages, paid leave, registered apprenticeships, and pre-apprenticeships that open up opportunities for women, people of color, and underserved communities.”

The Good Jobs initiative comes alongside other federal efforts to promote worker retention in industries that have seen a significant decrease in their workforce due to burnout or other factors, including health care and trucking. In a subsequent interview, Walsh advised employers to look at their business model and factors such as COVID-19 protections, wages, benefits, and advancement opportunities.

Anyone interested in learning more about the effort can e-mail GoodJobsInitiative@dol.gov.

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