Projected Labor Shortages: Build a Bear Workshop
The workplace I chose to study is Build-a-Bear. Build-a-Bear has its headquarters in St. Louis, Missouri. It has locations all over the world, and operates those locations in two manners. The stores in North America, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and France are owned by the company. The stores in other international locations, including Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Japan, The Netherlands, Norway, South Korea, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, Sweden, Taiwan, and Thailand are franchise operations. As of 2008, Build-a-Bear had 1,200 full-time and 4,800 part-time employees. Build-a-Bear is considered one of the top employers in the United States because of its employee-friendly culture and benefits policy. The company emphasizes team work and strives to provide a supportive environment for its employees through its benefits program and flexibility. The corporate environment is very casual and supportive, people can bring dogs to work at the corporate office, and the atmosphere is friendly, warm, and tries to capture the childlike feel one has when walking into one of the company's retail locations.
The company has employees in three main areas: corporate, retail, and distribution. Therefore, job position greatly influences not only the skills required for the position, but also the availability of the labor market. While the jobs in all of these locations are different and have different requirements, all employees are eligible for benefits, which puts Build a Bear in a very competitive hiring position when compared to other retailers who depend upon part-time employees. Moreover, the company is expanding. For example, it just announced that it will open a location in Corpus Christi, Texas. Each time a store opens in a new market, the corporation must consider not only the national labor market, but also the local labor market to determine whether it will be able to meet its staffing needs. Staffing needs in local retail stores are frequently met by hiring very young people, such as high-school students, to work in the stores. However, those retail positions that are filled by young people in certain demographics are also frequently filled by post-retirement age workers in other markets, so that the labor market drain expected with retiring Baby Boomers could impact the company's business needs.
It is important to understand how and why people are projecting labor shortages in order to understand how those shortages might impact Build a Bear:
According to the Employment Policy Foundation (EPF), a systemic labor shortage is expected to transform the workplace over the next 25 to 30 years as the gap between baby boomers and entrants of college-educated workers widens due to the boomers' mass retirements. If the U.S. economy continues to grow at three percent per year -- the economy's consistent average since 1948 -- the workforce will have to increase by 58 million employees over the next three decades if the same rate of productivity is maintained. Yet, if the current population trend continues, the number of workers will only increase by 23 million. This trend would create an overall U.S. labor shortage of 35 million workers" (Atwater & Jones, 2004).
These numbers probably seem absurd to people aware of the 2011 problem of unemployment. Obviously, the recession has had an impact on economic growth, which has driven up unemployment rates. However, unemployment rates disproportionately impact unskilled workers. Moreover, whether the recession will have a long-term impact on the economy's average growth is yet to be seen. If it does not have a major impact...
Moreover, "Most of these projected shortages are expected to involve workers having specific skills" (Atwater & Jones, 2004).
Build a Bear may not suffer a significant impact from this lack of available workers. After all, employs a large number of employees in a retail capacity. In fact, it has almost four times as many part-time employees, most of whom are employed in a retail capacity, than full-time employees. Those retail positions are generally going to be filled by unskilled laborer, employees who do not need to have any specialized training or education to perform their job duties. On the one hand, this means that there is a large pool of workers available for the positions, because workers are not limited by degree, specialized training, or experience. On the other hand, it means that there is a large amount of competition among employers; workers may have their choice from among various employers. Therefore, employers will have to increase their attractiveness to potential and current employees.
Furthermore, while Build a Bear's retail operations employ mostly entry-level, non-skilled employees, the same cannot be said for its retail management, corporate, and distribution employees. Approximately one-fifth of Build a Bear's employees are not in the entry-level range. Instead, they may be store managers, associate managers, corporate employees, and distribution warehouse employees. These employees are a step above the unskilled labor market, because their jobs require specialized skills, some that require tailored educations, in order for the worker to perform their jobs. This is an area where Build a Bear is particularly vulnerable, because it is the midlevel sector where future employee scarcity is thought to be the greatest problem. "Studies by both the U.S. Census Bureau and the United Nations assert that the supply of workers 25 to 44 years old will decline 15% over the current decade. That means there will be far fewer prospects to recruit for midlevel jobs- the core of the workforce" (Gibbon, 2004). Therefore, Build a Bear needs to ensure that it is able to recruit and retain these employees.
Build a Bear is already considered one of the best employers in the United States. Therefore, there are not many changes to suggest in its strategy, because it is already taking significant steps to ensure employee satisfaction. It offers benefits even to its part-time employees, which sets it apart from many of the competitive employers. For example, the average person seeking a job in a retail establishment may come across a Help Wanted notice in the window of a Build a Bear storefront, and may apply at other stores in the same shopping mall, which is where most Build a Bear stores are located. If the applicant is offered two positions, the availability of health benefits may be a deciding factor in the person choosing to work for Build a Bear. However, the fact is that many of the applicants will be covered under their parents' health insurance policies, so that the availability of those benefits might not be as attractive as other benefits that Build a Bear offers or could offer.
In fact, one of the primary challenges in the modern workplace is that that many employees feel no loyalty to their employers. There is a suggestion that over half of "workers are either actively seeking or passively considering different employment at any given time" (Gibbon, 2004). What Build a Bear needs to do is work on retaining quality employees. The fact that the majority of its workers are in retail positions implies a high turnover rate. Build a Bear already takes steps to treat their retail workers with some level of respect; for example, employees are given an extra paid day off in the month containing their birthdays. Perks like that, which are not matched by competing employers, help differentiate Build a Bear from other employers and inspire employer loyalty. Moreover, Build a Bear already tries to work with its retail level employees and help them progress in their careers; it offers scholarships to employees that are entering or attending college. However, one of the changes that Build a Bear could implement would be to offer a greater number of scholarships, but limit their recipients to business majors. They could tie some of those scholarships to internship opportunities as assistant managers or managers at retail stores or at the corporate location, fostering a symbiotic relationship with their employees. The more clear it is that an entry-level employee can not only progress up the ladder at Build a Bear, but it encouraged to follow that pathway, the more employee loyalty one may expect to find.
Furthermore, store-level hiring employees, like managers and assistant managers, need to approach the hiring of retail employees in the same way that a corporate-level recruiter would approach recruitment and retention. Looking at making sure that all employees have the same type of expectations of their employment experience as higher-up employees becomes important when attempting to hire and retain those employees. That is not to suggest that retail clerks are going to expect the same salaries or perks as executives, but that they should expect to like their jobs and "nowadays, recruiters need to be able to: 1. Create an image and brand for their organization. 2. Market and sell the organization and the functions within it. 3. Become masters of identifying and tapping diverse sources of…
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