As our economy recovers from the recession, the employment outlook is shifting. New fields, like technology, are seeing rapid growth, while struggling old guards, such as manufacturing, are experiencing unexpected revivals. This changing economic landscape is catching many people off-guard, as they're finding they aren't prepared for in-demand careers. The result is that our economy is suffering from a skills gap, and small businesses are struggling to find employees whose skills match their needs.
Employment numbers reflect the urgency of this gap. In August, Department of Labor data showed about 9.6 million people were out of work, while about 4.8 millions jobs went unfilled. This issue impacts both workers, who remain unemployed, and businesses, which are unable to find the type of workers they need to grow.
As with many economic challenges, the skills gap disproportionately hurts small businesses, which don't have the same resources as big business when it comes to spending on recruitment. This problem also significantly impacts our economy, as small businesses are responsible for about two-thirds of new jobs. Just between September and October, firms with less than 50 employees created 102,000 jobs.
A new poll of small business owners from Small Business Majority shows the skills gap is a very real problem for small firms. The poll found that while 54 percent of small employers have hired new employees over the past three years, many are struggling to find qualified employees. When asked about their biggest difficulty in hiring new employees, a collective 95 percent cited issues related to background, qualification or experience. Specifically, 56 percent cited "finding candidates with the right kind of experience" as the biggest challenge they faced in hiring, while 54 percent identified "finding candidates with the right education, skills or training" as their primary hiring challenge.
Addressing the skills gap is a huge task, but not one that small business owners are afraid to tackle. The poll found strong support among small business owners for programs that could close this gap. For instance, 55 percent are interested in employing and developing apprentices through formal training programs. Another six in 10 support on-the-job training programs for employees.
Small business owners also want to improve training opportunities by teaming up with schools--57 percent are in favor of partnering with organizations that coordinate with educational institutions, businesses and community organizations to provide job training and placement. Similarly, the majority of small employers support working within their industry to develop local training programs.
Unsurprisingly, many small business owners--always an impressively innovative group--are already taking some or all of these steps. But the reality is that small businesses can only do so much on their own, as explained by Tim Corbett, President of Reliable Underground Service Technicians in Allendale, Mich.
"My rapidly growing small business is having trouble finding new employees with the right skills and knowledge. We're working to improve the local workforce through partnerships with a university and a nonprofit, but our resources are limited," Corbett said. "Broader action is needed to fix workforce issues, such as expanding opportunities for women to enter technical fields and offering incentives to small businesses that invest in training for their employees."
Addressing the skills gap is vital to our economy, and small businesses are a big part of the solution. Small employers already support the steps needed to make a difference, such as apprenticeships, on-the-job training programs and more. But they want policymakers to create tax credits, grants or other incentives to help them instate these programs.
By helping small businesses implement these types of trainings, we can address the skills gap and secure our economic future.