When Big Companies Go Back To School, Will Small Businesses Benefit?

Companies seeking to hire are complaining of a shortage of qualified workers. Will going back to school help?
CEO, Small Business Trends LLC
June 19, 2011

If your small business is getting ready to hire new employees, you may be surprised by something that seems counterintuitive: Despite widespread unemployment, U.S. companies seeking to hire are complaining of a shortage of qualified workers. And small businesses face even more challenges because employees often prefer to work at larger companies that offer more benefits and are perceived as having more opportunity for advancement.

Will a new effort by major corporations help your chances of finding qualified staff—or hurt it? The Wall Street Journal recently reported on how big companies that are concerned about replacing aging baby boomer employees as they retire are reaching out and working with schools and colleges to provide job training for the next generation of employees.

The programs primarily focus on manufacturing and engineering. In manufacturing, nearly one-fourth of employees are already 55 or over, creating concerns about coming mass retirement. The National Association of Manufacturers, for example, is working to create standardized curricula at community colleges to help students become certified in industrial skills.

In math and science, U.S. students are falling behind other nations. To help, the National Math and Science Initiative trains math and science teachers and enables high school students to take college courses.

The Journal says many programs focus on community colleges and vocational schools because these schools can quickly train workers in specialized skills. In fact, many big employers are asking community colleges to create custom training programs for them.

Large employers have clout in a community and can often contribute donations to the colleges to help with the costs of such programs. Obviously, this is probably not something a small company can do. But will the benefits of corporate influence on school curricula trickle down to you?

One way to find out is to investigate what’s being done in your area. Are there special programs at schools in your community that could provide more of the workers you’re going to need?

You can also rely on the principle of strength in numbers. Join forces with other small businesses in your area and work together to come up with ideas for training programs you’d like to see implemented. If you get enough weight behind you, your companies may be able to implement change at local schools.

I think this trend is particularly interesting for small companies seeking employees with industrial skills. While there are lots of ways to outsource engineering and technical jobs—saving your small business money—you can’t outsource a welder, electrician or other hands-on, blue-collar job.

Even if you can't influence the development of curricula, you can keep in mind that community colleges and local universities are good sources of workers for a small business. Get involved with internship programs and post your want ads on the schools’ job boards. New graduates cost less than seasoned workers, and they’re freshly trained in the latest tools and trends.