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Small Businesses Facing Labor Shortages


Small business owners cite the unavailability of workers as one of their biggest challenges. The labor shortage means that employers cannot, in some circumstances, operate at full capacity and must forgo some revenue opportunities. Businesses may have to delay planned expansions or the addition of new products or services because of the scarcity of workers.

Employers understand that having a skilled, trained, and committed workforce is key to growth and profitability. In the competition for a decreasing pool of skilled employees, employers have to assess their current hiring practices, identify any deficiencies, and develop and implement policies that help ensure that they can hire the employees they need when they need them.

Here are some issues employers need to consider when developing a strategy to attract and retain key employees.

Sharpen Your Hiring Process

Use every available tool. If you are not using social media to reach out and contact potential hires, you are not taking advantage of a very helpful medium. Social networks like LinkedIn and Facebook can be productive resources. They can be particularly effective if you ask family members, friends, and current employees to reach out and talk up job opportunities with your company on the sites they frequent.

Posting available positions prominently on your company website can also be effective in reaching out to a pool of potential hires. Traditional avenues, such as headhunters and employment agencies as well as radio and television ads, remain helpful.

Revisit Your Compensation

Some industries, such as information technology, pay more in wages and benefits than other traditionally low-paying industries, such as food services and retail. Still, if the job opening you want to fill is critical to the future growth of your business, you may want to consider paying above market salary if you can afford to do so. You may even have to get into a bidding war with other employers.

The reality is that employees with in-demand skills typically command a premium salary. Before you make a prospective employee an offer, find out how much other employers in your area pay for similar jobs. One place you can find useful employment and wage statistics is the Bureau of Labor Statistics website (bls.gov). The BLS information covers most geographical areas in the United States and is broken into type of occupation as well as various levels within that occupation.

Rethink Benefits

Most employees look for health care coverage, paid vacation days, and an employer-provided retirement plan. If you can't be competitive with these benefits, you may have to step it up with others. Think of offering employees the chance to work remotely for a few days a week if it is feasible with your business's operations. Consider summer hours, employer-provided snacks and drinks, and casual dress days.

Coping With a Labor Shortage

Not every incentive has to have a price tag attached. Non-monetary awards -- from recognizing an "employee of the month" to a heartfelt face-to-face expression of gratitude for a job well done -- can be remarkably constructive and can leave a lasting impact on employees. Inexpensive incentives can include gift certificates, cash spot awards, and even extra paid vacation days.

Offer Training

While costly, offering courses and educational opportunities that can help employees advance in their area of expertise is a potent way to attract ambitious, committed employees. Courses that develop well-rounded team players who can take on other roles within your business are especially cost-effective in the long run.

Consider Incentive Plans

Incentive plans reward employees for their achievements and create a sense of accomplishment. Plans can be used on a one-time basis or as an ongoing program. Some incentive plans include:

  • Annual incentive plan: Rewards for this type of plan are tied to expected results that are identified at the beginning of the performance cycle.
  • Discretionary bonus plan: The owners/managers determine the size of the bonus pool and the amounts that will be given to individuals after a performance period. Typically, payouts from this type of plan are not guaranteed, nor is there a predetermined formula.
  • Profit sharing plan: A profit sharing plan allows employees to share in their employer's profits. Such plans typically include a predetermined formula for allocating profit shares among participating employees and for distributing funds accumulated under the plan. Some plans are tied in with the employer-provided retirement plan and some plans are discretionary.

Work With Your Financial Professional

Structuring an effective compensation and incentive package can be a complex and time-consuming task. The help of an experienced financial professional can be invaluable during every stage of this undertaking.

1"The America Works Report: Quantifying the Nation's Workforce Crisis," U.S. Chamber of Commerce, June 1, 2021.