(This post originally appeared on The Guardian)
It’s not news that the Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on many small businesses. Millions have been required to shut down. Millions more have been forced to seek federal aid. Many will never recover. But the ones that do, and have a little extra cash in the bank, will find that the pandemic has actually solved – unexpectedly – the biggest problem they have been struggling with over the past few years: finding workers.
Before March, finding good people was a huge challenge.
Just think back to a few short months ago. Wasn’t it as recently as August that the National Federation of Independent Businesses reported a “record percentage” of small business owners having difficulties finding qualified workers or that, according to another survey from payroll and human resources provider Paychex, finding and hiring qualified employees was by far their “top challenge?” It was and other, more recent studies confirmed that the problem persisted into 2020 and right up to the beginning of the pandemic. But that’s certainly not the case now.
That’s because the labor market has undergone significant disruption. Many employees who had jobs are now out of work and will find that those same jobs are no longer available, either because the company they worked for is still struggling to return to normalcy or has gone out of business altogether. Many larger firms – like such as Uber, Airbnb and Glassdoor – have used the economic downturn to cut back workers while, others – like Caterpillar and Levi Strauss – have used the downturn to lay off employees amid suspended or curtailed operations. Others are cutting salaries and freezing their hiring plans as they wait to see how quickly the economy recovers. Workers at many state and local governments are bracing for potential layoffs. Many employees at firms bankrupted by the downturn, such as Hertz, JC Penney and J Crew, are facing similar fates.
So what does this mean if you’re a small business owner? It means that – if you’re able – now is a great time to recruit. Now is the time to be trolling sites like LinkedIn, ZipRecruiter and CareerBuilder, speaking to colleagues, reaching out to industry associations and putting out feelers to past candidates that got away.
I realize that some small business owners who are just now reopening are more concerned with surviving the downturn rather than growing. But this is a big country and I see that for every struggling retailer and restaurateur there are firms in industries and regions that have, despite many challenges, managed to continue to operate and in some cases prosper. These are the companies – the family-owned firms, the B2B businesses, the light manufacturers, the construction companies and service firms, that are potentially poised to recover and grow faster.
Recoveries from economic downturns are a time when savvy entrepreneurs can make great investments. Real estate tends to be cheaper, equipment and inventory deals from distressed sellers are more frequent and new acquisitions become possible. These are investments that can provide significant returns in the years to come for the companies that have either managed to sock a few bucks away or still have the credit facilities to raise cash. So what better investment is there than a talented individual? The old saying that “people are our greatest asset” isn’t just words. It’s true. A talented employee can make a much more significant impact on your business than a new building or machine.
And here’s an added bonus: gone for now are the days where employees are making significant demands from their employers. That’s because, like any market, things have changed and now it’s the employers who are in the driver’s seat. I’m not saying you should be taking advantage of the misfortunes of others. I’m just saying that you’ve got a much more level playing field when it comes to benefits, perks and salaries than you had before. People who lost their jobs are rightly shaken up. They need to get back to work. They may be willing to compromise for a decent wage at a good company like yours.
But hurry. This window won’t stay open forever. Depending on the speed of economic recovery, many companies – particularly big companies – will be back to hiring and you may lose out on that great individual to a better, more lucrative offer. For now, however, that’s not the case. Sure, we have many problems in the wake of the pandemic. The supply of good people is not one of them.