Help Wanted: Small Businesses Need Skilled Workers


With 14 million Americans out of work, it might be surprising to hear that employers are having trouble filling certain positions.

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows 2.7 million jobs remained unfilled in the U.S. in August, and employers are reporting having a hard time finding skilled workers to add to their payroll.

ManpowerGroup's 2011 Talent Shortage Survey, released earlier this summer, found that 34% of employers are experiencing difficulties filling positions due to lack of available talent. Of this group, 24% of employers said they aren't finding candidates available in their markets, and 22% reported applicants lack the technical competencies or "hard" skills required for an opening. Additionally, 15% said the candidates lack business knowledge or formal qualifications.

Joyce Gioia, CEO of Employer of Choice, Inc., said employers cut back on job training in the 2000 recession, and that reduction is finally catching up with industries. This, coupled with increased dropout rates from high school and college, has led to less-qualified applicants dominating in today's densely-populated job pool.

"The recession of 2000 was the turning point [for cutting job training]. It was a very short-sighted move and employers were shooting themselves in the foot," Gioia said. "Also at the same time they were getting rid of experienced and trained people because they were earning more money than the newbies. Another bad move."

This labor market conundrum is beneficial to some small businesses and hurts others, depending on the industry.

For some industries, the high unemployment rate allows small business owners to attain talent they formerly couldn't afford, said Gioia. For others, it has been crushing.

"If they are competing [with large companies] for people with the same skills, larger organizations are in a position to offer greater benefits and certain perks," Gioia said.

The House of Representatives Small Business Committee held a hearing on this topic last week entitled "Innovative Approaches to Meeting the Workforce Needs of Small Business." The hearing focused on the need for more skilled and trained workers.

Rep. Scott Tipton, (R-CO), chairman of the Small Business Subcommittee on Agriculture, Energy & Trade, said the trend has been worsening for some time and was only exacerbated by the recession.

"We have a mismatch of employer needs versus employee skills," Tipton said. "People are going to school, trying to get certifications. The recession has become a magnifying glass for the larger issue."

The hearing is part of an ongoing initiative by lawmakers to deal with the scope of issues that are preventing small businesses from creating jobs. Small businesses are often credited as the main force behind creating job jobs and stimulating economic growth.

In order to compete with larger companies in a job pool that lacks skills and training, Gioia advised small companies offer the perks they can afford and create a desirable company culture.

"It’s the little things that count. Take a personal interest in your employees and their families. Give office flexibility, change hours if you can."

She said offering perks like AAA memberships, more vacation time and small office celebrations for birthdays and holidays will help attract and retain more skilled employees in a rough job climate.

Tipton said in his Colorado district, collaborations have occurred between the Manufacturers' Association and community colleges to create programs to meet specific employer needs—a move he would like to see replicated across the country.

"It requires ongoing education," Tipton said of meeting employer needs and creating jobs. "As technology continues to develop, it will require additional training and continued collaborative efforts to focus on this specific need."