More than 20 million Americans have been out of work or under employed each month since the 2009 recession began, says a November 2012 report on CBS’s news program, 60 Minutes. Employers are eagerly searching for trained workers to fill technical entry level and mid-level positions. What employers have discovered is known as, the “Skills Gap” – a serious deficit in the job market between the types of jobs available and the potential recruitment pool of qualified skilled workers.
Carl Hudder is the CEO of Click Bond in Carson City, NV a manufacturer producing fasteners for cables, panels and anything that connects parts in planes, ships and trains. Click Bond has contracts with national and internationally based companies including the U.S. Department of Defense. Hudder’s company needs workers that can program the machines, validate product specifications and test the products it makes. “Basic skill sets such as reading, writing, problem-solving, and even showing up on time seem to be lacking in the job market today,” says Ryan Costella, head of strategic initiatives at Click Bond. “We’re in the business of perfection and we can’t hire people who don’t even have basic skill sets,” says Costella in the 60 Minute interview.
Lack of skilled workers is one reason for the rising number of unfilled jobs. “We can’t find enough students who are willing to pursue these trades,” says Hudder. So rather than sit and wait for qualified workers to come to them, Hudder and Costella decided to partner with a local community technical school and the State of Nevada to groom their own employees. They go to the school, interview students for attitude, aptitude and then invite them into a 16-week training program for the jobs they needed filled. “The program focuses on the machines in today’s manufacturing environments. Students learn to operate the technology and even do trigonometry as part of their new roles. The 16-week program is free, paid for by Nevada taxpayers and the participants can even continue to collect unemployment while they attend.
For companies like Alcoa, one of the oldest manufacturers in the country, the problem isn’t finding the right employees, but retraining employees for new technologies and skills needed to take the company into a more innovative mindset. “The environment is changing all the time,” warns Klaus Kleinfeld, CEO of Alcoa. “If you don’t keep up, someone else will eat your lunch.” And he’s not wrong.
According to surveys by the Wall Street Journal and Vistage International, a San Diego peer advisory group for executives, “about 22% of 848 small-business owners and chief executives said they had unfilled job openings in June because they couldn’t identify qualified applicants, up from 31% of 811 business owners nearly two years ago.”
Lack of qualified applicants has caused a rift in small business growth, too. Not enough available talented workers means that small businesses cannot accept as much new business as they like because they cannot handle the increased work load. Conversely, economists and workforce experts say that many businesses aren’t doing what they should to adequately train and educate their own employees. That reluctance has made it hard to sustain both business growth and careers. The stagnancy in the labor market has resulted in a lack of depth on the corporate bench for knowledge and skill sets. If employers are only seeking workers with a very specific skill set, the available pool is considerably narrowed. According research group Bersin by Deloitte, “the government hasn’t tracked spending on corporate training since the mid-1990’s but one rough measure, the percentage of staffers at U.S. manufacturers dedicated to training and development, has fallen by about half from 2006 to 2013.
What are the options for finding the right employees when budgets and time are tight and pressure to be successful is all-encompassing? “Remember that while small business needs to be flexible and very responsive, to grow and see profitability requires planning and strategy,” says Van Ballantyne, owner of Counting House Associates in Greenland, NH. “Employees are a business’ greatest investment and asset. Thinking creatively about how your employees can develop within your organization may ultimately be a win-win for both the business and the worker.”
- Apprenticeship – One of the most traditional ways to gain skills in a profession, apprenticeship has taken on new life in the twenty-first century. By working with local technical, community colleges and universities, there is a bounty of potential apprentices waiting to join your organization as either interns, apprentices or work-study program participants. Apprenticeships are typically paid positions, albeit with scaled wages commensurate during the training period. It may seem like a big initial investment, but long-term these individuals can become life-long contributors in your organization. The additional bonus is that you have the ability to train, educate and groom individuals from an often early point in his or her career. With many experienced and more mature individuals returning to college for retraining opportunities, your small business may also be able to capture an apprentice that has life experience and a wealth of other business knowledge who is eager to learn new skills.
- Internships – These historically non-paid opportunities (although that is changing today) provide students a chance to work at your business, learn new skills and decide if their current educational tracks are a good fit. At companies like Click Bond, interns spend two days a week at the plant learning how to use the machinery and problem-solve – skills that are transferrable to a job at Click Bond or a multitude of other career options.
- Training programs – Invest in your current employees. There are generous businesses offering tuition reimbursement to their employees to attend college, or gain new computer skills, but perhaps there’s a better way to take a strategic interest in your employee’s education. Investigate onsite retraining programs to help bring your current employees current on software programs and skill sets needed to bring your business into new markets and opportunities. An educated workforce is powerful, an educated and skilled workforce can take your company to new heights.
- Subcontract- A popular way to bring in talented contributors without assuming all of the overhead of raising head count, independent contractors and consultants can provide a wide range of skill sets and time horizons for a growing business. Don’t have the need to hire a full time IT person to manage all of your software and networking? Then subbing out that role to an independent firm or individual may be the perfect solution. You may also discover that your contractor could be your next great new hire.
There’s so much more to hiring and retaining workers than just offering the right salary and health plan. To learn more about how your small business can grow by bringing in the right talent and retaining them, talk with a us today.