Small Businesses Feel Staffing Crunch

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Janine Kiriluk did everything she could to fill the open jobs at her small accounting firm and save the business she had owned for nearly a decade.

But in the end, the roles remained empty, and—out of options—she was forced to join forces with a larger company.

Key Takeaways

  • Janine Kiriluk merged her small accounting business in New Jersey into a larger company this month, an outcome she attributes to the difficulty of filling job openings at her firm.
  • A record number of small business owners say they can’t fill positions at their companies.
  • The number of open positions and people quitting their jobs hit record highs in April, while layoffs hit a record low.
  • Many businesses are raising wages or offering other perks to attract and keep workers.

JB Financial Associates of Mount Laurel, New Jersey, had been around for eight years when the pandemic hit, forcing Kiriluk to furlough two of her seven employees. When business eventually picked up, one of them came back, but not for long—she soon left for a job at a bigger company that provided better benefits and pay.

Kiriluk offered a benefits package that she said was as good as her small business could afford: life insurance, vision and dental, and a few other perks. But no one came. In June, she merged her business into a larger company, Alloy Silverstein Accountants and Advisors, an outcome she attributes to the difficulty of filling those jobs.

“You do what you can to attract top talent, but it just wasn’t enough,” she said.

Kiriluk isn’t alone. A record number of small business owners say they can’t fill positions at their companies, according to the National Federation of Independent Business—with 48% saying they had job openings in May and 93% of those hiring saying they had few or no qualified applicants for the positions they were trying to fill.

The economy has boomed in the first months of this year, growing twice as fast as normal on the backs of stimulus-fueled consumer spending. But businesses have found that their recovery from the pandemic can’t be complete without proper staff, and workers—increasingly aware they may have the upper hand—haven’t rushed to take any old job. Both the number of job openings (9.3 million) and the number of people who quit their jobs (4 million) hit record highs as of the end of April, according to the government’s so-called JOLTS report released Tuesday. Layoffs, on the other hand, fell to a record low of 1.4 million in April.

This is despite many businesses beginning efforts, like raising wages, to attract new workers and keep the ones they have. (There’s some evidence that increasing wages at least increases interest in a business, with job website Indeed saying searches for positions at companies like Bank of America, Chipotle, and McDonald’s surged after those companies announced pay hikes.)

Still, many jobs are going unfilled, and theories about why are numerous: generous unemployment insurance benefits, anxieties about the pandemic, an inability to find childcare, and workers retiring or reconsidering their career choices all shoulder some blame, economists say. Quits have risen in the meantime, as workers are increasingly confident they’ll be able to find better opportunities amid the millions of unfilled jobs elsewhere.

“The JOLTS report confirms in spades what employers have been lamenting for months,” wrote Sophia Koropeckyj, managing director at Moody's Analytics, in a commentary. “There are a huge and record number of unfilled jobs in the labor market.”

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