From Understanding what matters to implementing what works
An initiative of the Fund for Our Economic Future
Where Are the Workers? is a multi-part analysis of Northeast Ohio’s changing talent landscape led by the Fund for Our Economic Future, ConxusNEO, PolicyBridge, the Summit and Medina Workforce Area Council of Governments, and Team NEO. Surveys and focus groups gathered perspectives from more than 5,000 Northeast Ohioans and 600+ employers between December 2021 and July 2022. This report synthesizes preliminary findings and lays the groundwork for what employers, policymakers, workforce practitioners, economic developers, and others can do to strengthen workplaces, build economic resiliency, and improve talent strategies to work for today’s workforce.
Understand the talent landscape
See how Northeast Ohio’s workforce has changed in the wake of the pandemic.
About this research
Learn how this research was conducted and who contributed to the work.
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Explore implications and recommended strategies.
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The Northeast Ohio worker is
Checkout lines are long. Restaurants are closed on arbitrary days. Hospitals are short staffed. Lifeguards are hard to come by. Shelves are bare. Home contractors are unavailable. The peoplepower behind the economy has never been more visible, but the reality of today’s labor market relative to 2019 is stark: There are more jobs, fewer workers and those who are working are feeling desperate, confident or both.
Questions abound about what’s happened— and still happening— to the labor force. Did everyone retire early? (Yes, but not who you think.) Did stimulus checks and extra benefits let people stay home longer? (Not really.) What are the impacts of long COVID? (Small, but meaningful.) Does a workplace have to be fully remote to be competitive? (No, but it helps.) Why is everyone quitting? (For a lot of reasons.)
More influential than early retirements, stimulus checks or the health impacts of COVID, however, is the real change in worker sentiment. The pandemic shattered the long-standing structure of many workplaces and transformed people’s relationship with them. People are quitting their jobs in record numbers and they are choosing to work somewhere else, work part-time, do gig work, work from home; work—but work differently. People want a living wage, flexibility, investment in their professional development and career, meaningful work, and a positive work environment. And many have, for the first time, paused to ask whether what they’re giving up in life in order to take a job is worth it .
The shift in worker sentiment is meaningful, has been a long time coming, and is unlikely to be temporary. Even with rising inflation and the threat of a recession, it’s hard to imagine this new worker sentiment changing. The workforce of today looks, thinks and acts differently than the workforce of 20 years ago.
This analysis quantifies the impacts of various pandemic-related factors on the region’s labor market, offers a first-hand look at what’s going on with workers in Northeast Ohio and suggests some ways to bridge between workplaces of today and workplaces of the future.
With every crisis comes opportunity. The opportunity here: Now is the time to become an employer of choice. Employers seizing this moment as something to respond to —rather than just get through— will succeed in the quest for talent and be part of what makes the region more competitive and prosperous for decades to come.
About This Research
At the end of 2021, the Fund for Our Economic Future and several partners joined together to answer the questions on everyone’s minds: Where are the workers? How are people spending their time? What are they doing to make money? What matters to them? And what can employers do to attract and retain the talent they so desperately need?
The analysis that follows is based on information collected from employers and working-age adults across Northeast Ohio from late December 2021 through June 2022. In total, more than 600 employers in 18 counties and nearly 5,000 working-age adults in 11 counties participated in detailed surveys, and several hundreds more shared their perspectives in focus groups and roundtable discussions.
The data collected through the survey of working-age adults are both statistically significant and demographically representative of the survey area. Survey data was extrapolated into estimated population impacts. Read more about the methodology here.
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Understand the Labor Landscape
We looked at regional population and economic data, surveyed and interviewed more than 600 employers and talked to more than 5,000 Northeast Ohioans to understand the intersecting factors influencing today’s labor landscape. Read on to learn what we found.
Who Are the Workers?
Understanding the makeup of Northeast Ohio’s workforce
Where Are the Workers?
Exploring the impact of various factors on the workforce
What Workers Want
Defining the evolving culture around work
Become an employer of choice
What does this all mean for employers?
An overview of the implications emerging from this research
Become an Employer of Choice
Use this interactive tool to customize potential strategies for your business, workers and talent challenges.
About this Research
The how, the who and the what’s ahead for Where Are the Workers
The latest on “Where Are the Workers”
Read recent news coverage and commentary, request a speaker or presentation on the work, and explore what’s to come.