Drive down any main street or industrial parkway in most U.S. cities and you will see ``help wanted'' signs dotting the businesses and storefront windows. Many owners of small and mid-size businesses are echoing the same question: ``Where can I find good help?'' The fact that the unemployment rate is hovering around 5 percent (one of the lowest levels in years) doesn't help.
In the last 20 years, the birthrate has dropped 20 percent. And as Roger Herman, author of the book, Keeping Good People, reports, each year more than 1 million young people graduate from U.S. high schools and are not functionally literate.
Recent studies also have shown that more young people are living at home longer, which increases their dependency on their parents and diminishes their urgency to get a job.
With all of this going against you, how can you find good employees? Although it might sound hopeless, it's not. There are several strategies you can consider using.
The first thing you and your management team must do is make the decision to find high quality people to fill the jobs you have.
Notice I didn't say ``highly qualified people'' but rather ``high quality people.'' It's important to think long-term here. You must first find the right persons and then invest in educating, training and retraining them.
One way to get started is to create a flow chart. Buy a pack of 3x5 post-it notes and an appropriate-sized poster board. On the 3x5 notes write out the job titles of the positions you want to fill. For each job title, create two lists of the qualities you'd like to see in the person you will hire.
First, list qualities the person MUST have; then list qualities the person SHOULD have to fill the position or positions now vacant.
Although a simple system, this is a practical way to help you identify and locate the type of employees you are looking for.
Where and how do you search for the right employees? If you want to attract the best applicants, you will have to be creative.
Hanging out a help wanted sign isn't good enough. On a recent trip with my family in Ohio, we left our hotel in search of a good restaurant. About a block from the hotel, we saw a restaurant that was part of a well-known chain. On the large sign in front of the restaurant were the words: ``Help wanted-all shifts.''
Our fears of receiving little or no service were soon validated. After three minutes of waiting to be seated, no one noticed us. We soon left. The help wanted sign reconfirmed the image of poor service, and in essence, was scaring away customers.
The lesson to be learned is that there are better ways than hanging a sign in your window or placing an ad in the local paper to get the word out that you need ``a few good people.'' Consider these strategies for hiring the best people for your company's vacant positions:
1. Get involved in the community. Make sure you and your company have a good reputation.
2. Place carefully worded advertisements in strategic places describing a pleasant and growth-minded workplace. Examples would be ads with local churches or local movie theater pre-show screen advertisements.
Other ways of finding and retaining employees include:
Contacting local college work-study and high school internship programs and pointing out the learning and career opportunities with your firm;
Starting a 10 percent college tuition plan for all employees. For every dollar they earn, you will contribute 10 cents to their college tuition;
Creating a reward system for employees who recruit their friends to join your company. Base the reward on a minimum length of time the new employee must remain;
Creating an alliance with local businesses for referrals when you or they have an overflow of qualified job applicants;
Developing your own ``farm system.'' Recruit continuously so you always have a pool of prospective employees; and
Hiring people who are new to this country and are still learning the English language. Learn enough of their language or have someone on staff who can speak their language serve as a company ambassador and trainer.
By putting in place a plan and then working your plan to attract good help, you can build a team of dependable, hard-working employees. As a result, you will increase the likelihood that you will provide the kind of service that will keep your customers coming back.
Mr. Borg is president of Canton, Mich.-based Tom Borg & Associates, which offers consulting and training in customer service development and employee performance.