Is a Good Job Applicant Hard to Find?

Surveys suggest that small business hiring is on the rise. But why are they struggling to fill positions?
Business Writers
April 05, 2012

Two separate surveys suggest optimism among small business owners has returned to levels not seen since before the recession began in 2008. Roughly 30 or 40 percent are currently hiring or are planning to hire workers in the next six months.

One of the surveys, a biannual economic outlook conducted by the PNC Financial Services Group, concluded that nearly one in three small businesses is planning on growing its staff. The other, a survey of the National Federation of Independent Business' 350,000 members, found 42 percent are doing the same.

Either way, companies may struggle to fill those positions, suggests the NFIB. More than 75 percent of small firms can't find a qualified applicant for their jobs, said Bill Dunkelberg, the NFIB's chief economist.

The biggest problem, according to the NFIB survey: a lack of required skills, which was an issue more than 25 percent of business owners cited. A close second was poor work history, followed by inflated wage expectations. Just over 15 percent cited poor people skills or poor attitude. Poor appearance was the problem for nearly 15 percent.

Some workers lack the skills needed for the open jobs or are deficient in English or math, problems that require more schooling, Dunkelberg said. “But ‘appearance’? ‘Attitude’? The applicant could correct these flaws.”

The PNC survey also said the major problem is lack of skills. Nearly half of those surveyed (45 percent) say requirements for employee skills and background are higher than they have been. The top three priorities for those hiring: Computer/technical abilities, experience "in the field" and communication skills.

PNC's survey reported similar problems (in similar amounts) as the NFIB survey. Just over a quarter (26 percent) of those surveyed said applicants lacked the required skills for the position. Twenty-three percent cited poor work history, nine percent found drug-use problems, and six percent had applicants who could not establish their legal status.

Artemis Strategy Group, which conducted the twice-yearly telephone survey on PNC's behalf, polled 1,697 businesses nationwide for the most recent one.

That survey also revealed 70 percent of business owners were planning capital investments and 65 percent were optimistic about their local economy.

"These findings show a significant improvement in expectations and optimism" and support PNC's forecast of an ongoing recovery in 2012-13, chief economist Stuart Hoffman said in a statement.

Are you planning to hire? What problems, if any, have you encountered with filling the position?

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