It’s still here — the Great Resignation. A recent survey from consultancy PwC says one in five workers globally is extremely or very likely to switch employers in 2022.

Not a good scenario when you consider there were 0.6 unemployed people per job opening in the United States as of June 30, 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Which means for the foreseeable future, small businesses will still have to battle big corporations to fill their workforce.

So how can small businesses compete against those larger resources? We’ve compiled five ways you can attract top talent in a fierce hiring marketplace.

1. Double Down on Small

Yes, you read that right. Instead of being a liability, being small can be an advantage. Smaller organizations tend to be more nimble than larger ones, which often have layers of bureaucracy and inside politics to contend with.

Smaller, private businesses also can afford to place longer-term bets than larger, publicly traded ones. Small companies can adopt a test-and-learn attitude that allows insights to develop and success to build over time.

That agility and longer-term horizon will help you attract talent that wants to grow and evolve with a company, people who want to learn all aspects of the business and try on different roles.

Smaller organizations also put employees more directly in contact with the people they serve. That will help you attract talented candidates seeking a greater sense of purpose in their lives.

Monetary compensation is important for surviving, but deeper relationships, a strong sense of community and purpose-driven work are essential to thriving.

Gartner

In fact, according to consultancy Gartner, 65% of participants in a recent global survey said they are rethinking the priority that work should have in their lives. Fifty-six percent said the pandemic made them want to contribute more to society.

When carefully crafted, your company’s mission statement can be a powerful tool for attracting top talent to your small business.

When your company strives to improve the world around it, this can entice people who also want to make a difference with what they do each day.

2. Hire for Potential

It can be frustrating trying to find the right combination of hard and soft skills. So maybe stop trying.

Reskilling and/or upskilling have taken greater importance coming out of the pandemic. Reskilling is learning an entirely new skill set to perform a new role; upskilling is adding more skills within the role a person already has.

The hard skills you want could be developed in a high-potential person who has the soft skills you need — such as a current staff member already embedded in your company and culture.

According to a global survey of 800 executives in June 2020, the McKinsey Global Institute found that companies as varied as Walmart, JPMorgan Chase and AT&T had already begun retraining employees who were losing jobs to automation.

They’re training them in new skills that now complement that automation, turning potential layoffs into job growth.

By 2025, 50% of all employees will need reskilling.

World Economic Forum

Or consider the hiring approach of Kate Leipprandt, managing director of Baldwin Financial Advisors, LLC, in Arlington Heights, Ill.

When taking over the family business, she needed someone with a finance background, but didn’t yet have the client income to pay an employee who already had the necessary certifications.

But she knew the increased business that person could generate would ultimately support their salary. It was a chicken-and-egg scenario.

So she hired someone right out of college with a finance degree and offered to pay for the certification training and testing they would have to undergo.

Then, she implemented a graduated salary structure that would increase that person’s pay annually, assuming they got the required certifications along the way. The increases reflected what she thought that person would be able to do and produce over time.

“It’s a different sort of work flexibility,” Leipprandt says. “It puts the control in her hands. And it’s been the best thing ever.”

3. Be Flexible

Compensation isn’t always money. Of course, one obvious way to attract talent is with salary. The post-pandemic work world hasn’t changed so much that pay would fall from its perch as the top factor.

However, other means of compensation have grown in importance. Healthcare has become non-negotiable. And many employers offer a host of other benefits, such as:

  • Paid leaves of absence
  • Health- and day-care savings accounts
  • Unlimited time off
  • Tuition reimbursement and student loan repayment
  • 401(k) savings matches or pensions

89% of people in the U.S. would consider additional benefits over more pay.

ManpowerGroup

And of course, we can’t forget one of the biggest flexibility topics: where work is done.

During the height of the pandemic, many office workers worked from home. And many office-based companies still offer varying degrees of work from home. But where roles require proximity to other people, that isn’t an option.

However, there are ways to offer work-from-home flexibility even for roles that are in-person based. Is there online continued education or training that must be done? Allow people to do that from home.

Reports that need to be written and filed? Could be done from home. Any other computer-based work? Yep, that, too.

Redefine workweek

Aside from money, what is the one thing every employee wishes they had more of? Time.

For most of us, there never seem to be enough hours in the day. That’s especially true for busy working parents.

Providing a few hours each week for your employees to take care of personal business — a la “summer hours” — can lead to lower turnover, higher productivity and increased loyalty to your company.

While we are all accustomed to the five-day/40-hour workweek, there’s no rule saying it has to stay that way. Here are some possible scenarios:

  • Hourly work can be scheduled more flexibly and in shorter shifts. Employees could choose the time of day they work, as long as the total hours equal your workday or workweek.
  • Your staff could cross-train other employees to allow for a rotating day off per month, where they cover for each other.
  • Try the “permanent floater” concept, where one dedicated person rotates jobs or shifts to fill in for others. (That might even be an appealing new job description on its own.)
  • Consider compressed time — allowing employees to work four, 10-hour days for instance, instead of the traditional five.
  • Even more intriguing is the current global initiative promoting a four-day/32-hour workweek — tests run globally have shown people are just as productive and spend less time wasting time.

63% of businesses found it easier to attract and retain talent with a four-day week.

4 Day Week Global

We understand, though, that service providers are more beholden to their customers’ schedules than their own. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find ways to flex your own work week using different combinations of nonconsecutive work hours.

Parts, not wholes

Does your work always need one person for 40 hours? Or could you hire two people at 20 hours each?

Creating a workforce of both full- and part-time employees allows you to tap into highly skilled talent who, for one reason or another, can’t commit to 40 hours a week.

Retirees or parents of school-aged children are two such pools. There are many people who left full-time jobs who would love to feel useful in a part-time capacity.

You also could integrate more contracted work into your workforce for short-term assignments or to fill gaps when other employees are on leave.

4. Look Elsewhere

Just as you need to be flexible in what you offer employees, you need to be flexible in your hiring criteria. If you’re looking for candidates who went to a certain school or have an unbroken work record, you’re needlessly boxing yourself in.

Time to shake things up a bit, and consider the following candidate pools.

The long-term unemployed

These high-caliber candidates can include experienced employees living through a long-term layoff, or parents returning to the workforce after raising kids. It’s a relatively untapped pool.

The pandemic drove home how many people outside the workforce didn’t leave their jobs for performance issues. (Consider this: 2 million women left the workforce during COVID-19 for childcare reasons.)

Candidates with career breaks are more likely to be hungry for opportunities and eager to contribute. Interview for attitude and soft skills, and embrace the variety of their history.

Midlife career changers

A salesman who wants to get into tech work or a manual laborer who wants to break into accounting may not be your ideal candidate. But before you reject a career-changer’s resume, consider the amount of motivation and drive it takes to break into a new field.

That can signal the kind of can-do attitude you’re looking for.

And since the pandemic offered many the chance to change up their lives, this pool of ambition only grew larger. Embrace the grit and perseverance that taking on a completely new challenge requires.

You’ll attract talent motivated to put those qualities to use for you.

Unexpected candidates

You may feel one type of experience is preferable over another for your company, even when choosing entry-level employees. Reevaluating your preconceptions might be smarter, though.

Older employees, ex-fast food workers, retired military personnel and others who might look like a poor fit on paper can bring motivation, discipline, creativity and a team-based style.

For example, experienced, older employees have consistently high attendance records and can help stabilize a staff of relatively younger workers. Embrace the individual instead of the resume.

Different education

Step back and look at your workforce’s education. Are there some pretty big consistencies? If you always hire the same type of person with the same type of degree or life experiences, you’re getting an awful lot of sameness.

Unique perspectives bring unique ways of thinking and solving problems.

So travel beyond Big State U and recruit from historically Black colleges and universities. Instead of a four-year degree, consider “stackable credentials” — certifications and learning pathways from other institutions or associations that demonstrate subject matter expertise.

Embrace the diversity of thought unique backgrounds can provide.

We no longer necessarily need to use the degree as a proxy for smart.

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., Society for Human Resource Management

5. Go Digital

What humans do best is connect with one another. When you welcome digitization, you unlock the empathy hiding behind routine, repeatable tasks. Bringing automation to those tasks opens up a range of possibilities.

Your staff will be mentally available to develop bonds with your customers and respond fluidly to their needs.

What it doesn’t mean is that machine-based work automatically replaces human work. What it does mean is that we have an opportunity to automate the transaction and elevate the service.

According to the Harvard Business Review, when you give employees the time and space to do what humans do best, you open them up to create far more value than they ever could in a routinized role.

The time spent on current tasks at work by humans and machines will be equal by 2025.

World Economic Forum

In fact, the companies digitizing most are creating the most jobs, with more jobs being created than eliminated.

According to ManpowerGroup, 86% of employers currently undergoing automation also plan to increase or maintain their headcount, compared to 11% of those reducing or maintaining their automation plans.

Embracing digitization means you’re putting together the best combination of talent and technology possible. Job candidates aren’t interested in a company with its head in the sand.

Those with future-forward plans and investing more in digitization, workforce skills and innovation are capturing a greater market share — and winning the talent war.

Attract Talent the Smart Way

The workforce of today and tomorrow is looking for greater purpose in all they do, particularly at work. Small businesses are perfectly placed to capitalize on this trend.

Use your size to your advantage — demonstrate your growth possibilities, investments in learning and close-knit team approach.

Show your employee commitment by reskilling and upskilling instead of firing and hiring. Reframe flexibility as evidence of how you’re building and reinforcing a positive work culture.

These days, a roster of identical backgrounds is more of a competitive liability, so shake up your recruiting by rethinking your options.

Bring the human to the forefront of your workforce. You’ll quickly attract talent who shares your values. And become the employer of choice at the same time.

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