By Renée Jean, Business and Tourism Reporter
The hairy, 400-pound gorillas in the room Wednesday at the Governor’s Business Forum in Laramie were inflation and a 3-to-1 ratio of available jobs to workers in Wyoming.
“There’s a word for the economics we’ve been living through today, and that word is just ‘weird,” economist Anne Alexander said, summing up the situation succinctly.
Inflation Affects Everyone
Immense infusions of cash during the 2020 pandemic may have helped stop businesses from hemorrhaging available jobs and many workers from losing incomes, but it has since contributed – along with supply chain issues – to record price increases.
“Inflation is now global,” Alexander said.
In the United States, record high inflation has prompted the Federal Reserve to raise the roof on interest rates at a rapid clip.
“They’ve been very hawkish,” Alexander said. “They’re trying to cool down an overheated economy. They’re trying to cause a recession. And I’m sorry to tell you that that is their job right now, because inflation is a tax on everyone. Unemployment is painful, but doesn’t affect everyone.”
Labor Market ‘Just Nuts’
Inflation expectations remain moderate, Alexander said, but the labor market is “just nuts.”
“Another highly technical economics term,” Alexander quipped. “The pandemic has accelerated the retirement of our baby boomer generation, and a lot of people have become just a lot more picky about the kinds of jobs they want to have.”
On top of that picky job syndrome is a shortage of child care, Alexander said.
“We’ve had 10% of the (national) workforce, so 100,000 people, got out of that profession,” she said. “That has real impacts on families who are working. So, we’re just here with lots of rays of sunshine.”
What’s Wrong With Millennials?
Meanwhile, Center for Work Ethic Development CEO Josh Davies put an uplifting perspective on the many problems business owners are facing.
His talk centered around what his firm has found is the number one job requirement for employers — good work ethics.
Older generations don’t feel that younger people have a good work ethic, Davies said.
“What is wrong with this generation?” Davies asked. “I’ll tell you what’s wrong with this generation. The problem is this generation is ‘privileged, narcissistic, entitled and spoiled!’”
Having said that, Davies revealed that the quotes he was citing did not come from the time period everyone may have been thinking.
Matter Of Perspective
Those descriptors of young workers were actually from Life Magazine in 1968.
“We’re not talking about millennials, we’re talking about what we now call baby boomers,” he said, adding that complaints about young people go back even further than that.
“Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room,” he continued. “They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs and tyrannize their teachers.”
That quote is from Socrates.
Everyone, meanwhile, is still saying millennials when they’re talking about young people, Davies added.
“We need to stop doing that,” he said. “The oldest millennials turned 41 this year.”
Instead, if there’s a discussion to be had about young people in the workplace, it should be about Generation Z.
“What’s the number one word that millennials use to describe Gen. Z?” Davies asked. “Lazy.”
Work Ethic Can Be Taught
Regardless of which generation one wants to point fingers at, work ethic is something that can be taught, Davies said. But not the same way we’ve all become used to.
“The old approach (is) we’d point fingers and we’d penalize people,” Davies said. “We’d tell them what not to do.”
But the motivation of fear is not as powerful as tapping into the core motivations that drive people. And in a labor market where jobs are so readily available, that approach also won’t do much to build loyalty.
Not All Doom and Gloom
Meanwhile, Tom Sullivan, vice president of small business policy for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, brought a little bit of good news with him to the forum, particularly for Wyoming.
“Over the last few years, the last two and a half years, we’ve seen the greatest number of business applications in the United States ever,” he said.
That’s not the kind of trajectory the nation saw after the 2008 recession.
Then, “we saw new startups plummet,” Sullivan said. “It took 10 years to get the trajectory going back up. After COVID hit, it took four months – fourth months – to start an upward trajectory.
“That is tremendous news; tremendous news to the innovation and ingenuity of Americans.”
Why is that good news for Wyoming?
“When you dig a little bit deeper into the statistics, Wyoming leads the pack,” Sullivan said. “You are experiencing startup growth in this state at 85% higher than you were in 2019.”
Number two on that list is Delaware, Sullivan said.
“Given the energy in this room throughout this forum, I think that Delaware is going to be following you for a long, long time,” he said.
Bringing It Home
Participants, meanwhile, were taking it all in with optimism intact.
Wyoming Health Fairs Executive Director Tandi Rinker told Cowboy State Daily she particularly appreciated the work ethic panel.
“It’s refreshing to hear that some of the things that we’re dealing with aren’t really new,” she said. “These examples went all the way back to Socrates, that they were having trouble with work ethics. So the problems that we are having aren’t new. They’re just the same problems.”
She also appreciated advice from Laura Lehan during the Modern Workplace panel about re-recruitment of existing talent, and from Chris Brown that smart employers are finding spots for talented people, even if their skillsets might not be a perfect fit.
“I’m gonna re-recruit all of (my workers), not just my stars, because those people that need to be re-recruited may become a star,” Rinker said. “They just need an opportunity. So that’s one of the things I’m going to go back and do immediately.”
Rinker, like many employers today, is facing staffing shortages, which in turn causes extra demand on existing employees.
“Everybody wants to travel – until they have to travel,” she said.
She hopes to open offices in Rock Springs and Riverton to reduce the need to travel and alleviate a pressure she believes leads to more turnover.
She’s also no longer thinking in terms of how many positions she has open.
“I wouldn’t stop hiring,” she said. “If you need three, hire five.”