Help Wanted: The Labor Shortage in Small Towns

More than half of small businesses in the U.S. plan to add staff in the next 12 months, but many also acknowledge the difficulty of finding qualified candidates.

According to The Wall Street Journal/Vistage Small Business CEO Confidence Index for March, 54 percent of respondents reported plans to hire employees in the next year, slightly higher than the 51 percent who said that in the February survey.

The index notes, "Small employers have incrementally upped hiring plans since the start of the year because of steady demand."

The National Federation of Small Business survey reports a similar trend of hiring plans for the next 12 months. However, 37 percent (seasonally adjusted) of all owners told NFIB's monthly poll that they had job openings they could not fill.

The shortage of qualified workers can seem even more acute for businesses in smaller cities and towns. But a rural location doesn't have to be a detriment to a great company, explains Rikka Brandon, CEO of and founder of

"Lean on your strengths, leverage your place in the community, and showcase your opportunities to build awareness and start building your talent funnel," she writes in a post for LBM Journal, which serves lumberyards, building material distributors, wholesalers, manufacturers, and service providers.

Here are a few tips to help you broaden your search and attract qualified candidates to your small-town or rural area business.


Find Initiatives That Can Help 

One example is the American Works Initiative, created by the U.S. Chamber and U.S. Chamber Foundation to help employers discover and develop talent.


Highlight Your Community Connections

Businesses should be involved in their local communities — sponsoring local events, volunteering, etc.- because it's just right to do so. However, your connections to the community could also draw positive attention from potential candidates.   

"Your commitment to supporting your community not only makes people want to shop with you, it can help define your company's culture and makes it attractive to prospective employees," writes Brandon in the LBM post.

Also, use your job postings to remind applicants of your connection to the area," advises a post by staffing firm PeopleReady. "This way they can be reminded of the positive impact you've had on the community, which will make them more willing to work with your company."


Target Your Candidates

Top leaders at the executive search firm Battalia Winston suggest recruiting top talent is an exercise in marketing. 

In an article for Chief Executive magazine, CEO Dale Winston and President Terence Gallagher advise small-town businesses to identify target audiences, find the best places to reach potential candidates, and tailor their messaging.

"For instance, how about advertising at a local fishing competition or placing an ad on a hiking website or in church bulletins?"

Post your opening on college and university job boards—you might get the attention of "boomerangs, candidates who attended college or grew up in your town and may want to move back," they write.


Appeal to Different Populations of Workers

Widen your search to include individuals who are sometimes overlooked when it comes to recruitment.

This might mean considering veterans or younger, under-experienced potential candidates. Individuals in these populations could be drawn to your business if there are training and education courses to expand their skills.

Those benefits could also be attractive to older individuals, who make up or will make up a large percentage of the American workforce.

"Over the next decade, 42% of the growth of the labor force will come from individuals ages 55 and older, with most of this growth coming from women in this age group," says the Center for American Progress website. "Yet, older women often find their path to mobility hindered by a lack of access to training, upskilling, or re-skilling."

If your business offers training, it's important to approach it with an "age-inclusive lens," advises Ashley Powdar in an AARP post.

"With as many as five generations in the workforce, age-inclusive learning and development approaches are a must," she writes, suggesting companies offer a variety of options, such as digital, in-person, and self-paced formats, and mentorships for soft-skills training.


Talk Up Your Town

When recruiting, don't forget to emphasize the "authentic benefits" of your town, just like you would talk up your company and benefits, advises Brandon.

For example, if your business is located in an area that offers an array of outdoor activities, abundant green space, or fun community events, let potential applicants in on it in job postings and interviews.

"Does your town have a scenic bicycle path, free Friday night movies at the beach, or the best hot wings in the county? Also, often, a good sports venue or museum is within a short drive. Take a look around and you'll find plenty of benefits to emphasize," says the article in Chief Executive magazine.


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