FOR MONTHS, EMPLOYMENT ANALYSTS have been forecasting an impending labor crisis in which businesses have far more jobs available than qualified applicants to fill them. That shift has already started in a number of the top employment regions, says The Herman Group, a North Carolina–based consulting firm that monitors key business trends.

The company has identified “Delmarva,” the Delaware/Maryland/Virginia region surrounding Washington, as the first area to flip from a “buyer's market,” in which companies have their pick of top talent, to a “seller's market” that puts job candidates in the driver's seat. The Delmarva region now has the lowest unemployment rate of any major metro area, says Joyce Gioia, president of The Herman Group and a specialist in workforce trends.

The determination of which regions are prone to becoming a seller's market is made by monitoring such indicators as the economy, labor statistics, recruiting activity, and executive demand by retained search firms, as well as staffing agency workloads.

Other regions poised for the shift are Northern New Jersey, Southern California, Atlanta, Jacksonville, Fla., Orlando, Fla., Phoenix, Denver, Chicago, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Houston, Dallas/Ft. Worth, San Antonio, and Raleigh/Durham/Greensboro, N.C.

Builders in those markets can prepare for the shift by making sure they have strong relationships with their employees, Gioia says. An employee assessment, focus group, or both can help builders identify areas of the work environment that employees value and those that need improvement. Then, as the competition for good employees heats up, they'll be well positioned to hang on to their staff.