The prediction(s) were right — much sooner than anticipated.

Recently, the Department of Labor released the report stating there now are 6.7 million job openings and 6.4 million available workers. This is a first in our national history. The trending increase in job openings is speeding up significantly with no signs of slowing down.

Despite this phenomenon, it also is interesting that wages are not keeping pace as we might have noted in recent years when candidate pools were limited. Average hourly wages were up only 2.7 percent in May. It is a fact that has left many leading economists puzzled.

Unprecedented times often call for urgency and creativity to respond with new and unique initiatives. Is raising wages across the board the answer? Or, will that type of response drive excessive wage wars inflating salaries to a point where companies cannot maintain their headcounts?

The war on talent has been in play for several years. Companies claim they cannot find the skillset they need to fulfill their gaps. Work often is offshored to meet business needs and address the gaps.

We’ve learned from the nursing shortage, identified in the early 2000s, that there was no magic wand or single initiative that presented a solution. Rather, recruitment efforts extended to international searches.

Managers were held increasingly accountable for retention. High potential or performance programs were implemented to retain the best of the best. New technology was invented to help reduce the manual labor to effectively fill gaps and reduce the number of nurses needed.

What did become increasingly apparent is that if you were a nurse, you had numerous and extensive choices. And that is what we will see happening across companies in nearly every industry. Employees have unprecedented confidence in changing jobs. So, what can we do?

We’ve seen the consumer-facing brand trends flooding our media sources. Data analytics and consumer demands are paired up offering alignment of products and services to the individual consumer. And never has it been so important to earn the respect of consumers to keep their business. In a survey of millennials, conducted by Forbes, only 7 percent identify as brand loyalists. This same trend is occurring in the workplace.

The employer brand has never been as important as it is today. Positive employer branding will help you attract, retain and drive positive employee relations. Experts in recruiting are using phrases like “employee intimacy.”

In other words, it is not about pleasing the boss. It is about pleasing the employee and identifying individual employee champions who can help advertise and sell your brand.

The workplace culture of today and in the future will need to be employee-centric and empower employees to feel in control of their career paths. When you empower employees to show you how to hit your productivity goals, you create adaptable and flexible teams that you trust to get the job done, with little pressure or interference from the top.

On average, positive employer brands receive twice as many applications as companies with negative brands and they spend less money on employees. Bad reputations force higher salaries — on average, 10 percent higher.

In other studies, we see numbers such as 60 percent of candidates are researching companies on social media before applying and 75 percent are checking out LinkedIn. And the most noteworthy is that 70 percent of candidates will trust what employees say about their company, over any brand ads or company driven statements.

These are exciting but challenging times. Instead of spending time and money on identifying attrition numbers and reasons, exit interviews and yesterday’s recruitment approaches, try shifting your focus to your current employee base.

Ask your employees to share their experiences as to what makes your organization a great place to work. Use their voices to help influence a positive brand. Words like innovation, integrity and excellence are meaningless to a large majority of today’s candidates. They want (and don’t they deserve?) the positive experience of working for a great company like yours.

Lori Stewart is a partner, HR consulting, with HKP in Dubuque.

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