Dragonproof Podcast - The 2021 Labor Crisis: A Competitive Advantage for Online Business?

The June jobs report offered some great news for the economy and job seekers, with 850,000 new jobs added for the month. However, worker participation figures presented a distressing counterpoint, still stuck near the lowest levels in more than a decade. With 9.5 million unemployed amid fears of widespread worker scarcity, employers may need to adapt wages, hours, and work culture in order to draw talent. As Rick Wilson suggests on the new Dragonproof Podcast, the ecommerce industry may be poised to lead the way and redefine work life for the next era. 

What’s causing the 2021 labor crisis?

One of COVID-19’s many impacts upon American public life has been a grand reassessment of which job sectors are “essential” and desirable for workers. Returning to a service or retail job in the wake of COVID-19 may not be worth the low wages those jobs traditionally pay, especially as pandemic risks are still unresolved. With school schedules uncertain, parents must also weigh the practical demands of childcare, and many will not be able to return to full time in-person work for this reason. Older Americans are also taking the opportunity for accelerated buyouts and retirements.

As Rick points out, “remote work opportunities have radically changed options for workers, and this has really opened people’s eyes to different ways of working and living. While the current reluctance of workers to accept entry-level jobs can be pinned on the pandemic, in terms of labor trends COVID-19 is really just the catalyst of things that have been brewing for a generation.”

Amazon’s massive workforce problem reveals the challenges for digital industries

Primarily-online businesses stand to gain from a far more diverse talent pool, if employers are able to address all of the above concerns. These changes have crystallized so quickly though, that many major sellers are buckling under the pressures of supporting a workforce, including Amazon.

Amazon is the world’s biggest ecommerce employer. With 1.3 million workers, it’s second only to Walmart for U.S. corporate employment, showing the breadth of opportunity in ecommerce work, as well as highlighting the hurdles. Amazon has faced a series of workplace scandals in the past year, including claims of “intolerable and unsafe working conditions” around hours, breaks, and COVID-19 safety.

“What many are missing is that the health of the workforce is the success of the business, full stop.” says Rick. “We can’t just say ‘everyone for themselves’ because we live in an integrated world and run integrated businesses. I’m not just talking about COVID-19 and vaccines. I’m talking about setting your team up for success by helping them to be healthy, strong, confident, heard, and unified.”

No ecommerce business matches the scale of Amazon, but every employer will be affected by the workers’ rights movement which is springing up around Amazon’s issues. Communication, safety, compensation, and culture will be foregrounded, but ecommerce businesses already have a leg up. The efficiency and automation tools which power the 5 trillion dollar ecommerce industry are phenomenally well-suited to maximizing individual potential and company productivity.

“Right now,” says Rick, “it is the ecommerce industry’s time to define the workforce culture of the future. We’ve been employing remote workers now for a generation. We need to show the world how to work best.”

Ecommerce jobs are a powerful alternative for conventional retail workers

In the early days of the internet and online business, a common trope was the promised ability to operate a business from any location at any time. Today, that promise has become a reality. Countless job categories within ecommerce lend themselves well to remote work, and after the stress test of 2020, many companies are pondering making the shift to remote permanent. Management consulting firm McKinsey & Company predicts that we’ll see as many as three to four times the number of remote workers as before the pandemic.

“If you talk to someone who’s worked in ecommerce, the odds of them having worked remote for the last 10 or even 20 years are far higher than someone in corporate America,” Rick says. “And that means we as an industry have figured out how to find the right talent for the right role, no matter where they are located, from the top to the bottom of the organization.”

Of course not all ecommerce jobs are non-physical, but data-fueled management of every department from customer service to warehouse means employers can carve out extremely specific, flexible workflows which account for worker health, communication, conflict resolution, and childcare needs. The total result is a work culture environment that supports employees thoroughly, and makes work life worthwhile.

“The e-commerce industry is actually the antidote to the labor crisis,” Rick suggests. “It’s at the forefront of marrying technical skill with creative ingenuity. Skills can be taught, and creativity can be nurtured…it’s a win-win for everybody involved.”

Rick recommends that workers leverage the ability to create unique tech career paths, and focus initially on skill training. “Whether you’re a techie and want to work with the latest JavaScript frameworks, or you’re a developer and want to dig into machine learning data sets, or you’re just a business person who wants to understand culture-building and how to put together a thriving team that works in all 50 states, now is the time to focus on things you can do from anywhere.”

“The idea at the core of ecommerce,” Rick concludes, “is that digital automation makes it possible to do more with less, and that should be liberating for workers. I know our industry will continue to be an incredible option for workers into the new labor era we are currently defining every day.”

To hear Rick’s full talk about the 2021 labor crisis & ecommerce, stream the new Dragonproof Podcast here.

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