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The current dearth of skilled labor in the workforce, especially in technical professions, is hurting American companies. You hear it at business meetings. You read about it in newspapers and online. While companies of all sizes agree that the IT labor shortage is a huge stumbling block to their growth and success, small and medium-sized businesses are often hardest hit by this predicament.
When the job market tightens and becomes more competitive, as it has for several years now, smaller companies often find it much more difficult to compete with larger, well-known brands that can offer higher salaries and more appealing benefits. This makes the task of attracting and retaining experienced candidates an uphill battle, to say the least.
At the same time, while companies frequently see open positions go unfilled, prospective workers are finding that their skills don't map to what companies are looking for. So how can we work together to close the gap between employers looking to fill positions and people looking for jobs?
At the macro level, there is a lot that the federal, state and local governments, as well as community groups, can do to prepare the workforce for the types of jobs or skills that will be in demand in the future. That will require coordinated, long-term planning and investment in education, in addition to better training opportunities that help build a more balanced and skill-diverse labor pool. Yes, we need software engineers, but we need healthcare workers and many different kinds of other professionals, too.
Minimizing the impact of our IT labor shortage is possible for any business, although it's certainly far from easy. Based on my experience at ComputerCare, here are three strategies that may make sense for your organization:
1. Hire motivated employees
First and foremost, hiring motivated, engaged people is key. This may sound like a no-brainer, but it's easier to teach people skills than to change their attitudes. By seeing the potential in people who are eager to learn and grow in their careers, and offering them training, it becomes far less difficult to close the skills gap. Companies that are willing to take a leap of faith and make an upfront commitment and investment in green candidates can create productive, ambitious and loyal workers.
2. Commit to continuous learning
Georgia Rittenbergpresident ComputerCare
Think about training as an ongoing investment. Once employees have the necessary skills and training to contribute meaningfully to the company, don't stop there. Encourage and create opportunities for them to expand their talents through skill-sharing or other forms of on-the-job education. The freedom to explore new roles is one of the hallmarks of small businesses that larger firms find very difficult to emulate. And for small businesses, growing talent in-house is good not just economically, but in building a strong and lasting culture.
3. Invest in employee health
Another advantage that many SMBs have over their larger counterparts is that they don't need to answer to external shareholders. This frees up the business to plow profits back into the company wherever it sees fit, like robust healthcare plans for example. Although it can be costly up front, the downstream benefits are potentially significant. Healthier employees are usually happier employees who can concentrate on their work and generally take fewer sick days.
Addressing the IT labor shortage
Every business depends on its employees. Companies that want to reduce employee churn while encouraging long-term commitment need to take a long-term view when it comes to the IT labor shortage. Making employees happy in their jobs is a two-way street. It's not just about money or perks. Businesses need to invest in their employees and provide them with opportunities to advance in their careers. Without that level of engagement, employees often come to believe their companies view them as a commodity, rather than the asset that they truly are.
While these strategies are applicable to any business, they're especially useful for IT companies that are operating in a highly competitive market for talent. People are more likely to want to work for a company that values and rewards them, not just financially, but by investing in their future.
About the author:
Georgia Rittenberg became president of ComputerCare, a Santa Clara, Calif., company that provides managed IT and repair services, in September 2016. Prior to assuming that role, she was vice president of operations in charge of sales, marketing, human resources and technical support.
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