Article | September 17, 2019

Small Businesses Build a Roadmap for 21st Century Jobs

Jennifer Taylor

With record low unemployment at 3.7% and over seven million unfilled jobs in the U.S., businesses nationwide are struggling to find and retain the skilled talent they need. This is especially true for small tech companies – with less than 50 employees – who often don’t have a well-known company brand or staff dedicated to filling their talent pipeline. In fact, CTA’s recent Future of Work survey found that 86% (down six points from 2018) of respondents have a need for skilled workers and four-in-five respondents (80%) say it will be hard to find candidates with the right skills, up six points from 2018.

Last week CTA hosted its first Small Business Workforce Forum, a day-long summit on hiring and retention strategies to help small tech companies remain competitive in this unprecedented labor market. These are the top recommendations to help companies build a roadmap for 21st Century jobs.

Never Underestimate Company Culture.

Company culture is important – but can you measure and track it? Digital platforms which track employees, such as Glassdoor, and current employee satisfaction surveys, give leaders a stronger understanding of their employees’ sentiments. Regular townhalls are also beneficial for employees to share their personal insights. “Continuous communication with employees is imperative for creating an engaging culture. It doesn’t need to be perfect, but it needs to be ongoing,” said Nichole Jordan, national managing partner, Grant Thornton.

Recruitment is Your Company’s Lifeblood.

CTA’s Future of Work survey found that employee referral is the most used (73%) strategy to recruit new talent, no matter a company’s size. Headhunters, traveling to career fairs and running online ads make talent recruitment expensive. Instead, employers should nurture an engaging, productive and motivating culture that leads more employees to encourage others to work there.

Create Thoughtful On-Boarding for New Employees.

Many times, employees are thrown into new jobs on day one. A good on-boarding process is a valuable retention strategy that is often overlooked by small businesses. Holding a dedicated orientation for new employees and sharing the founders’ personal story and company history help new employees connect with the company’s vision, mission and strategic priorities. Other strategies include assigning new employees a mentor that is neither their manager, nor in their department, and scheduling a face-to-face meeting with HR at the end of the first week.

Put Apprenticeships on Equal Footing as Four-Year Degrees.

For decades, Americans have believed that attaining a four-year college degree is a social contract that leads to a high-paying job, but this sentiment is waning as many graduates saddled with student loan debt struggle to secure good work. Apprenticeships are a tried and true way to bridge the skills gap. The U.S. has over 500,000 active apprentices with 200,000 new starts a year and in new fields. “Apprenticeships are now the other type of four-year college that Americans can access and attain in-demand jobs with family-sustaining wages,” said Zach Boren, director, registered apprenticeships and policy, U.S. Department of Labor.

Even small businesses can benefit from offering learn-while-you-earn opportunities. Civic tech startup Phone2Action hired its first intern when the company had just 15 employees and now have converted three summer fellows into registered IT apprentices. “Give people a chance and invest in them,” said Jeb Ory, co-founder and CEO, Phone2Action. “We even went back to our investors and asked them if we could pay for more fellowships. They thought it was a great idea because it would help us build our talent pipeline for the future at a low cost.”

Small businesses in the tech industry should approach the workforce shortage like a startup would: find lean, agile and innovative solutions. Business owners that fill the talent pipeline in new ways, listen to their employees, upskill their workers and build an engaging culture will steer their company toward success.