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The Wall Street Journal recently did a piece about employees
and the difficulty finding people
.  It’s an interesting read, and the professor of
management at Wharton has a lot of things to say.  He’s also not working in a small business,
and as business school knowledge often is, he is out of touch with the average
business owner.  

It’s incredibly popular to talk about large employers when
discussing the idea of jobs – but it’s not actually the case.  The U.S. economy is driven primarily by small
business, not by Fortune 1000 employers.  

I want to break down a few of the so-called myths presented
in the article.  

To start, there’s the discussion about inflexibility of
employers.   Making the statement that an
employer should be reorganizing jobs to take different credentials is missing
the problem of a small business.   When
you have 25 employees, each hire is critically important.   Do you take someone who isn’t good enough
and rework the job for them?  No – you
simply can’t afford to do that.   Take an
IT engineering position – I need my engineers to be billable quickly to start
covering their salary.   Do I have time
to train them?   Not often.   It’s already expensive enough to find a good
person; if I have to teach them the role, that process can double their
cost.   Can I pass that on to customers
in this current economic climate? 

Dr Cappelli goes on to claim training is difficult to
find.  I beg to differ.   My staff members each get a sizeable
training budget, and in combination with vendor partners we regularly fully
fund certification programs.   My biggest
disappointment is in my own team – they simply aren’t willing to invest their
own time.    The good doctor is also right in that training
employees just to have them jump ship is costly – but what to do when employees
won’t even give their own time to do training?  
I’ll pay for it.  I’ll put them through
it.  I’ll invest in them. But they have
to have a little skin in the game.  And
most seem to want it given to them – a common problem in today’s marketplace.

I don’t disagree with the options offered – but again, I’m
less than convinced this approach applies to small business.   How can a small business work with a
community college?   At best an employer
may have a day or two to spare – not the countless hours to build the education
program.    Apprenticeships are also good
– but when the key elements missing are often communication skills, how can a
small business risk customer relationships as an employee is learning on the
job?   Apprentices require a significant time
investment – which is difficult to accomplish in a small business.

I want to make a difference in the education space for
potential hires – but I don’t hire hundreds of people a year, or even 10s.  I hire a handful.  And like many small business owners, I don’t
get the economies of scale in the options presented in the WSJ article.   They’re good ideas – but they don’t apply to
enough businesses and enough employers.  

To think big, we need to start thinking small.    How can we help the thousands of small
businesses hire just one more person?  
How can we help them get that extra bit of talent they need?    Making a mistake in hiring in a small
company is incredibly painful when you consider the proportional impact.  This is the key to success – making this hiring
easier to do and more successful.  And
while I think Dr. Cappelli has some good ideas, they don’t help enough of the
small employers, who are the ones who really make the big difference.

Dave Sobel is the founder and CEO of Evolve Technologies, a consulting
firm that provides information technology (IT) and computer networking
services to the small business, faith-based and nonprofit communities in
Washington D.C., Maryland and Virginia.