Dearth of Skilled Workers Continues to Plague Employers

Despite the amount of unemployment created by the pandemic, the scarcity of skilled workers is growing more intense. Some industries have suffered more than others, however for people who are unemployed or pondering a transition to a skilled job with more security and higher pay – or need funding support for training – it’s a job seeker’s market.

A Divergence of Industries

Idaho and the nation were experiencing one of the longest periods of expansion in history prior to 2020. Finding skilled workers available to fill jobs had been a challenge for several years. Demographics and population growth limited the number of new people available to work. Hot industries were caught between increasing demand for services from the growing economy, and not having enough available workers to fill positions for skilled or unskilled workers. Government labor and training agencies were busy using pipeline training programs and apprenticeships to connect employers with workers.

In addition to the tragic loss of life, the economic disruption caused in the United States by Covid-19 has not been the same for each industry. The large number of job losses during 2020 were most concentrated in hospitality and consumer services – industries the pandemic impacted the most. Occupations most affected by layoffs tended to pay lower-than-average wages, resulting in the emergence of what some economists have dubbed the K-Shaped Recession. Figure 1 attempts to demonstrate this divergence of experience by lining out national wage experience into three categories or terciles.

Workers earning less than $16 per hour have endured more unemployment during the pandemic than occupations paying more $16 or more.

Figure 1: U.S. Job Losses by Wage Tercile

Source: Economic Policy Institute

This divergence in job losses by wage developed as the result of how different industries were affected by the pandemic over 2020. Construction and other services are examples of two Idaho industry sectors experiencing this phenomenon. In Figure 2, job estimates for Other Services declined by 23.4% from April 2019 to April 2020, while total nonfarm jobs for Idaho declined to -8.9% during this time. While Idaho construction jobs declined by 4.6% from March 2020 to April 2020, it still maintained a positive 0.6% from April 2019 to April 2020, and by December 2020, progressed to an estimated year-to-year growth rate of 5%. While Idaho’s total nonfarm growth is 0.6% for the same time frame, Other Services lost ground from its rebound and declined 8.0%.

Figure 2: Year-to-Year Change in 2020 Idaho Jobs by Industry

Source: Idaho Department of Labor

The reason for the differences in job gains and losses between these two industries is based on how the two industries were affected by the pandemic. Other services include such areas as repair and maintenance, personal services, religious and civil organizations, among others. With social distancing and a reduction in the demand for services contributed to job declines in this sector. In contrast, Construction was an industry somewhat exempt from shutdowns and distancing protocols and had customer demand that was maintained or increased.

Occupations Still in Demand

The divergence in job losses between industries this past year highlights the opportunity for job seekers or those thinking about shifting careers. Before the pandemic, the lack of available skilled-workers and a tight labor force were limiting factors to growth or worker replacement for many Idaho employers. While the pandemic interrupted this experience for the U.S. and Idaho service sector industries, the need and scarcity of skilled workers in construction, trades and information technology has grown in intensity. An employee or worker taking the initiative to earn a skill or certification will be on the path toward a secure career that is in demand and pays well.

The Idaho Department of Labor and Workforce Development Council offer career resources, training programs and in some cases, funding for qualifying Idaho residents to transition to a skilled occupation, including:


Idaho Workforce Development Council’s Idaho LAUNCH program intuitive navigation guides Idahoans to research training opportunities by industry, region or skill. An easy fillable form connects interested Idahoans to a career planner at Idaho Department of Labor to initiate a consultation.

Idaho Department of Labor:

A number of the services available to job seekers are easily browsed, a few of which include:

  • Training Support available through federal Workforce Investment and Opportunity Act (WIOA) for qualifying individuals.
  • Idaho Job Corps for qualifying youth from 16 to 24 years of age.
  • Apprenticeships that are no longer limited to blue collar occupations but are now available for a wide variety of careers.
  • Browse and research information on occupations in Idaho through JobScape.

Nationally, many employers are waiting with open positions for the person with the right skill, certification and motivation. A number of recent news articles and stories highlight the demand for skilled workers. In particular, two news stories from PBS Newshour have highlighted the demand for skilled workers: intensifying nationwide shortage of skilled labor and the demand accelerated for short term college degrees during the pandemic.,
regional economist supervisor
Idaho Department of Labor
(208) 332-3570 ext. 3201