In a rural area, even a small improvement in the local economy can quickly dry up the pool of job applicants.
The neighboring town of Woodward, Oklahoma, is benefiting from the boom in natural gas production and the many high-paying jobs that boom has created. Except that it is straining the supply of people in the local workforce. Now Woodward is looking at many unfilled openings.
This points up the problem not just with the number of people, but also with skills and training. An article in the local Woodward News explains:
But for everyone the real problem seems to be not just finding workers, but finding qualified workers.
These are people I know from my time with workforce development in Woodward. They told me five years ago that basic skills in math and reading are part of the issue. Many potential workers also get disqualified because of drug or alcohol related offenses in the past.
I don’t have any quick-fix solutions, but here are two important points, adapted from Charles Lawton.
1. Local education must teach skills needed in your area.
Start with basic reading and math and go from there. Small business people have to take the lead in tying education to business skills because we know what skills we need. Get involved in the local workforce development process.
2. Business has to look beyond wages
Notice in the Woodward News article, the only benefit discussed was wages. We have to also consider work/life balance, career paths, and other people issues. If you have trouble finding anyone, don’t just offer higher wages. Expand your thinking to make your jobs more attractive.
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Becky started Small Biz Survival in 2006 to share rural business and community building stories and ideas with other small town business people. She and her husband have a small cattle ranch and are lifelong entrepreneurs. Becky is an international speaker on small business and rural topics.