Small Matters: Employers say good applicants are hard to find

Raymond Stasulli, new plant manager for Asher's Chocolates in their Souderton plant with rows of nonpareils fresh out of the machine.
Raymond Stasulli, new plant manager for Asher's Chocolates in their Souderton plant with rows of nonpareils fresh out of the machine.
Posted: April 02, 2012

In February, 42 percent of small-business owners among the 350,000 members of the National Federation of Independent Business tried to hire one or more workers. Seventy-six percent of those hiring reported finding few or no qualified applicants for their positions. Asked why so many applicants were unqualified, owners had some surprising answers. Overall, owners said the available pool had few or no qualified workers.

Getting down to specifics, 26 percent reported applicants typically lacked the required skills for the position and 23 percent had a poor work history, which made them less attractive. Nine percent have drug-use problems, and 6 percent could not establish their legal status.

Among the other findings: Sixteen percent of applicants typically had poor social or people skills, 20 percent had inflated wage expectations, 17 percent exhibited a poor attitude, and 14 percent had a poor appearance. This is a surprise since the applicant can largely control those factors.

Only 11 percent of the owners reported that deficient English or math skills had been a disqualifying characteristic. This is harder to fix as it may require more schooling or training. But "appearance"? "Attitude"? The applicant could correct these flaws.

Jack Asher, a local candy manufacturer whose business really picks up around Easter, agreed with these concerns (and our last commentary on the regulatory costs of hiring). His experience is that many workers are not dependable and don't always show up for work. Once hired, "laziness" often sets in.

Some can't get along with other workers, or are unwilling to learn the procedures involved in making and handling candy.

One suddenly developed a problem that led to a disability claim a few weeks after being hired.

Some want to work off the books so they can continue to collect unemployment benefits.

Once hired, a poorly performing worker can be difficult and costly to terminate, which of course triggers the need to resume the hiring search.

The recession was challenging for Asher's, as it was for virtually all small-business owners. The good news is that business has risen sharply - maybe more employees will be needed and that is good news for the job market - but not for owners who will find it harder to find "qualified" employees as the demand for labor picks up.

Bill Dunkelberg is a professor of economics at Temple University and a nationally recognized expert in small business. Contact him at dunk@temple.edu. Read more of his columns at www.philly.com/dunkelberg

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