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Opinion: Steps to help small businesses navigate the labor shortage

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The pandemic continues to have a significant impact on our daily lives, whether it’s related to how we work, how we manage our personal lives or how we generally interact with each other. Small businesses have been hit particularly hard, especially due to the shortage of available workers.

The latest survey by the National Federation of Independent Businesses found that nearly half of all businesses could not hire enough staff in August, while more than 22% of available positions went unfilled. Ninety-one percent of business owners hiring or trying to hire reported few or no qualified applicants – a 48-year high.

So, what does that mean for small-business owners, and how can they manage this labor shortage?

There are several measures that can help mitigate labor challenges.

Invest in your current employees. Empower them so they’re fully invested in the organization. Tips:
• Develop your employees so they have the skills to grow and meet the organizational productivity needs.
• Raise wages or other types of compensation, such as 401(k)s, but not so much as to decrease margins or to increase revenue to offset the higher expense level.
• Understand what competition is in your space and how to provide a competitive compensation package.

Focus on quality of the work environment to retain top talent. There are a variety of ways to make your workplace and culture inviting, such as providing flexibility in schedule, allowing more work-from-home options, creating enjoyable team-building events, providing accessibility to leadership and ensuring employees feel safe, particularly given the pandemic. Tips:
• Think outside the box when it comes to recruiting new employees. As mentioned above, additional time off or flexibility in schedule may be more attractive than a higher salary. Activate your current employees to help recruit by offering a referral bonus if they refer a candidate who is hired.
• Create a program where existing employees can mentor a new hire who may not come in with all the necessary skills. Mentoring helps build team cohesion, validates existing employee knowledge and allows for more flexibility in the candidate pool.

Invest in labor-saving processes or equipment that alleviates workload and helps production remain high with fewer employees.

Attracting and retaining top employees is certainly a challenge in any environment but has become even more difficult during the pandemic, especially for smaller businesses. While the approaches listed above are likely to be effective, your banking partner can also help advise and support you on financial impacts and forecasts as you work out solutions for your specific situation.

UMB Bank’s Justin Butler, senior vice president of commercial banking, and Adam McDiarmid, executive vice president and executive director of business banking, can be reached at justin.butler@umb.com and adam.mcdiarmid@umb.com, respectively.

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