Closing The Skills Gap: Small Businesses Get Creative To Address Worker Training Shortfalls

The skills gap is a significant hurdle to growth for most businesses in the United States. And while this gap is well documented in sectors like manufacturing, which had 353,000 open jobs per month on average in 2016 (through August), it is not as well known that small employers face a similar shortage of well-qualified workers.

As with many economic challenges, the dearth of workers with adequate credentialing and training disproportionately hurts small businesses, which don't have the same resources as large corporations when it comes to spending on recruitment. This problem also significantly impacts our economy; small businesses are responsible for about two-thirds of all new jobs. Small employers with fewer than 50 workers created 37,000 jobs in November 2016 alone--up from a steady 34,000 in both September and October. As our nation's job creators, if small businesses can't find the right candidates to open positions, this hurts our workforce and our economy overall.

A new scientific poll of small business owners from Small Business Majority shows the extent to which the skills gap is a problem for small firms. The survey found that 29 percent of small business owners say their employees have insufficient credentials. As a result, these under-credentialed workers are not promoted, which can cause them to lose interest in their jobs. And when asked about hiring new employees, more than one-third of small business owners say finding candidates with the right qualifications is a problem for their business.

Addressing the skills gap is a major undertaking, but one that small business owners are unafraid to tackle. Some small employers already offer their employees opportunities for additional education, training or certification outside their businesses, while others say they offer their employees chances to bolster their credentials within their businesses.

Small business owners also want to create better training opportunities by teaming up with schools--most say they are in favor of partnering with organizations that coordinate with educational institutions or other organizations in order to provide job training and placement. The majority of small employers also say they support working within their industry to develop local training programs.

Taking these sorts of steps has paid dividends for many small business owners.
"After years of finding that employment candidates who looked great on paper often lacked the skills needed to succeed in my business, I started offering a training program," said Ted Milner, owner of Executive Temps in Burbank, Calif. "These programs are critical to small businesses in the long run. When you hammer home a particular skill set, employees feel more confident in their work and have a better understanding of the job they need to do, which improves your bottom line."

A vast 81 percent of small business owners who offer credentialing opportunities to their employees say these programs are good for their bottom line. It should come as no surprise, then, that a majority of business owners say they allow their employees to work flexible schedules in order to accommodate additional training. But that isn't the only incentive some employers support in order to increase employee credentialing: more than half of small business owners say they're willing to subsidize worker training themselves, while two-thirds say they're willing to reward employees who gain new skills or certifications through pay increases or promotions.

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.

By helping small businesses implement these types of trainings, we can address the skills gap and secure our economic future.