Indiana Chamber Employer Survey: Companies Adjust to Continuing Worker Shortages

(INDIANAPOLIS) — While nearly half of employers are still leaving jobs unfilled, dramatically fewer are listing workforce/talent needs as among their biggest challenges. Instead, they are adapting to the ongoing shortage of qualified applicants in several different ways.

These findings and more are part of the 12th annual employer workforce survey from the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and its Institute for Workforce Excellence®. There were 1,005 responses from 89 of Indiana’s 92 counties during the August 5-27 survey period. Skillful Indiana was the lead partner, with additional support from Amatrol and WGU Indiana.

One distinct trend of the last five years remained largely intact. Forty-nine percent of respondents left jobs unfilled in the past year due to underqualified applicants; that compared to 51% a year ago and 47% in 2017.

Those citing filling workforce/talent needs as their biggest challenge, however, decreased dramatically – from 33% a year ago to 12% in 2019. Add in those who cite talent as one of their biggest challenges and the number declined from 80% to 45%. These percentages had been increasing each year since 2014.

“A slowing national economy, tariffs and ongoing trade disputes are some of the potential concerns for employers today compared to recent years,” says Indiana Chamber President and CEO Kevin Brinegar. “But, given the survey responses, another strategy seems to be accepting that the talent shortage is not going to change anytime soon and simply finding alternative methods for dealing with it.”

Employers are assigning more responsibilities internally (25% in 2019; 18% in 2017) and hiring underqualified applicants (23% in 2019 compared to 11% two years earlier). In addition, 71% confirm they are willing to hire an individual with less education/skills than desired and allow them to work while completing on-the-job training.

There is less optimism among employers in the growth of their own organization, with 45% expecting to increase the size of the workforce in the next one to two years. That is a significant decline from the 56% who anticipated growth in 2018 and the 53% of a year earlier.

The number of employers using internal staff as the largest trainer of current workers decreased from 67% in 2018 to 55% this time. But there remain many additional opportunities not being taken advantage of to team with K-12 schools, colleges, workforce training programs and other partners:

  • 58% do not work with others to develop work-based learning programs
  • 54% fail to partner on support of work-based learning programs
  • 50% do not team with K-12 schools for career awareness/exploration activities
  • 40% use none of these talent development strategies – student site visits, job shadowing, internships and apprenticeships

Also adding to the benefits of working with others in meeting the skills shortage: 66% of organizations planning to add high-wage jobs (paying more than $50,000 a year) are already partnering to develop talent, and 65% that have more qualified applicants than they need are participating in the state’s Next Level Jobs training programs.

“It’s essential that companies look to take advantage of some of the many workforce resources that are available,” Brinegar states. “A ‘going it alone’ strategy typically will not lead to the desired outcomes.”

Additional survey results include:

  • Employers cite bigger challenges with attracting (53%) employees than developing or retaining them (30% each)
  • Forty-four percent say they are measuring skills rather than education level/credentials in recruitment and retention processes with another 13% interested in learning more
  • Forty-five percent of employers believe applicants are not attracted to the community where their companies and jobs are located
  • Only 20% note federal or state regulatory/state burdens as impeding company growth in the past two years
  • With the 2018 introduction of Indiana Workforce Recovery and many other education efforts, employers terminating employees as the result of a first failed drug test declined from 52% in 2018 to 30%

“Although 45% of employers are expecting their workforce to increase, just as many cannot find qualified applicants and are leaving jobs unfilled,” comments Bill Turner, executive director of Skillful Indiana. “It is exciting to see that 71% of employers are willing to upskill less experienced candidates, and 30% are already hiring based on skills and competencies. This is a strong sign of businesses investing wisely in their employees and providing opportunities to more workers.”

Full survey results are available at

The Indiana Chamber Foundation has been producing practical public policy research to improve Indiana’s economic climate since 1981. The Institute for Workforce Excellence is dedicating to helping businesses attract, develop and retain skilled employees by bringing together tools and resources to assist in building that talent pipeline.

Skillful Indiana, a non-profit initiative of the Markle Foundation, is dedicated to enabling all Americans – particularly those without a four-year college degree – to secure good jobs in a changing economy. Skillful and its partners are working to create a labor market in which skills are valued, and people can more easily access the information and education they need to keep pace with technology’s impact on work.