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The Great Resignation is over—we’re now in the Great Talent Stagnation, employers say

Bosses want more skilled workers. Workers want more skills. Somehow, nobody is happy.

Per the latest annual Career Optimism Index study from the University of Phoenix Career Institute, more than half of the 5,000 U.S. workers surveyed said they feel easily replaceable at their workplace. Almost two-thirds said their company doesn’t offer them chances to climb the ladder. About a third of workers said they felt their company leadership doesn’t recognize their contributions, which leaves them feeling unempowered and often leads to lower productivity.

In a tight talent market and a time of enduringly high inflation, companies are looking for ways to trim expenses, and in turn are “fixating on the next best thing available to them outside of their organization to drive growth,” John Woods, provost and chief academic officer at the University of Phoenix, wrote in the report. That perspective perpetuates what he calls “a stagnant talent environment,” but there remains a major disconnect between how companies view their workers and how workers view themselves.

Almost half of the 500-plus bosses surveyed claimed they haven’t been able to find talented new hires in the past year, due to a dearth of qualified applicants. Clearly, something has gotten lost in translation. “By providing clearer and more flexible opportunities for their existing workforce to advance internally, employers have the opportunity to develop the dynamic talent they need from within, serving business objectives and workers’ career ambitions,” the report said.

The new Index—Phoenix’s fourth installment—suggests most business leaders overlook the “immense potential” their existing workforce could bring if they were offered requisite opportunities for advancement. “These workers possess a significant desire to advance and acquire the skill sets employers are seeking to fortify their businesses for the future,” Woods wrote.

Bosses may not see it that way. Over 60% of employers believe their companies offer plenty of growth opportunities to their existing workforce. But only a little over a third of workers agreed with that sentiment. That gap should be a call to action to employees: The vast majority of workers said they know they need a larger skill set in order to stay ahead, and they’re uniformly grateful for any firm that offers them chances to gain those skills and supports their growth. It’s companies that instead search for outside workers with existing skills,leaving their current people feeling stagnant. 

That listless feeling can be significantly more harmful to the bottom line than a simple skills gap. Without opportunities to advance, workers are doubly likely to search for a new role—and it’s well-documented that backfilling an outgoing employee is more costly and time-consuming than meeting them halfway. 

Then there’s the matter of feeling undervalued. Naturally, several years of layoffs, strikes, and a bone-chilling macroeconomy has left many workers on edge. Forty-two percent said they worry about the bad economy costing them their jobs, and 38% said their salary has failed to keep pace with inflation—bad news, given that a similar proportion say they can no longer afford things they could just two years ago.

Stagnation is far from a corporate death sentence, however. Nearly 80% of Americans remain hopeful about their career outlook, and a similar percentage feel in control of their future. The picture is a bit grimmer for corporations themselves: If U.S. companies don’t commit to nurturing existing talent rather tahn searching outside, they stand to miss out on up to $1.35 trillion cumulatively in savings, University of Phoenix estimates. 

Certainly that costs more than a coding seminar. 

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