By Jim Giammarinaro
President & CEO of the MetroWest Chamber of Commerce
FRAMINGHAM – MetroWest businesses are still facing a labor shortage.
The last article our Chamber published in the Framingham Source on this problem was in the fall of 2021. The theme for our November Annual Meeting last year related to the labor shortage.
What has changed since this time?
The unemployment rate has dropped to 3.6% and the number of open jobs in our country has increased to 11.3 million. How can that be? Unfortunately, the labor participation rate hovers around 62% as compared to the 2002 – 2004 period where the labor participation rate was 66%.
Every 1% increase in labor participation would fill 2.5 million open jobs. Unless we increase the
percentage of people in our “eligible job market” the solution to this problem is to add more workers to
We now see a push from the US Chamber of Commerce to increase legal immigration. The question becomes do we want to fill 11.3 million open jobs by having more current citizens participate in the workforce or do we to increase the number of citizens in our country. The likely answer is probably that we need both.
An increase in legal immigration involves assistance from the federal government. Systems would
need to be improved when it comes to the amount of time it takes to properly vet individuals who wish
to become US citizens. There are certainly several potential hard-working people who desire a better
and more free existence than they are experiencing in their countries of origin. A bipartisan
monumental effort by our government in this area would be welcome. We could likely wait on
legislation related to daylight savings time and move legal immigration up on the list of priorities.
Solutions to increasing the labor participation rate are more in control of the many employers in our
country. We explored many of these solutions in our previous article and it is worth expanding on these
now. There is no larger issue for employers currently than filling open positions.
Overall, it needs to be more beneficial for people to work than drop out of the labor market.
Below are some potential solutions to this problem:
1) It needs to be significantly more profitable for individuals to work than stay home. Wages need
to be higher than welfare benefits for younger families. Wages need to be better than the
combination of retirement benefits and social security for seniors. These solutions focus strictly
on the financial aspects of working but as the old saying goes “money talks”.
2) Flexibility in terms of schedule and hours worked are important for several people. Families
juggling childcare and elder care responsibilities need flexibility in their schedule. Hybrid work
schedules can accommodate individuals as they try to manage these responsibilities. Part-time
work versus full-time work is an attractive option for people 65 and over or parents responsible
for child-care. Employers may want to consider making a fulltime position 2 parttime positions
and drawing in employees in this manner who require this option. It certainly might attract
many individuals who are very capable who have retired.
3) It is important to have an open mind about changing the demographics of your workforce.
Opening consideration for open jobs to people of color, veterans, individuals with disabilities
and individuals coming out jail would be an important factor in filling open positions. One of our
goals at the MetroWest Chamber is to provide a vetted system for reaching out to these
4) This category covers a multitude of issues that need to be solved. Problems include solving
childcare issues, health concerns related to COVID, mental health problems, our aging
population, weaknesses in recruiting practices, job skills vs. job openings and quality of working
conditions. Many of these problems do not have easy solutions. Solving them will help fill open
The major takeaway from this article is that although a lower unemployment rate matters it is not the
measuring stick for how well our economy is doing. The more saliant measure is the number of open
positions in our country. People are still the largest driver behind organizational growth and profitability.
A large business cannot grow without people.
A small business cannot grow without people. A non-profit cannot provide services without people. Let’s focus on the people in our country and outside of our country who can fill the 11.3 million open jobs that exist currently. Let’s also invest time in the solutions to the many problems identified here so that once the gap is closed in open employment that it stays closed.
Editor’s Note: SOURCE and the MetroWest Chamber have formed a partnership. The Chamber’s column will run on Tuesdays on the digital news media outlet.