Unfilled Small Business Job Openings Just Hit a Record High. Is It Time to Rethink Hiring?

Keep the “help wanted” signs handy.

In September, a record 51 percent of small business owners reported job openings they were unable to fill, according to the National Federation of Independent Business’s report published yesterday. The job vacancies for the month more than double the historical average of 22 percent.

This data is illuminated by the latest jobs report. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said unemployment rate in September fell less than half a percentage point to 4.8 percent, with most job gains occurring in the leisure and hospitality, transportation and warehousing, retail, and professional business services industries. The number of unemployed people fell slightly to 7.7 million–an improvement from pandemic highs, but still two million more than pre-pandemic levels seen in February 2020. In spite of the end of pandemic unemployment benefits in September, the labor shortage endures.

And not for lack of better offers. To attract new employees, 42 percent of small business owners report raising compensation, and 30 percent plan to raise it in the next three months. 

The biggest issue is that available workers don’t have needed skills. NFIB’s report shows that a staggering 92 percent of businesses hiring or trying to hire reported few or no qualified applicants for the positions they were trying to fill. Instead of looking for diplomas or resume line items, business owners may be better suited casting a wider net and investing in on-the-job training for prospective employees who may not have the direct skills or qualifications they’re looking for, research by Accenture and Harvard Business School showed in 2017.

Redefining what experience job candidates really need will open up a job pool, and potentially even help businesses to better retain their workers: After all, recent polling from B2B software company Amdocs showed that nearly two-thirds of employees would leave their jobs if they are not provided with ample upskilling opportunities. According to the Association for Talent Development, training is a wise investment for everyone–new workers and old. 

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