Just because sales are rising doesn’t mean the job picture will improve anytime soon Featured

9:44am EDT October 1, 2012
Just because sales are rising doesn’t mean the job picture will improve anytime soon

Over the past few months I’ve informally polled a few dozen business executives and asked the same question: How is your year going?

A whopping majority — all but one — has reported that his or her organization is having either a record or near-record year. Sales are rising, and they can barely keep up with demand.

This matches a recent Robert Half Professional Employment Report, which found that 37 percent of respondents were very confident in their organizations’ growth prospects, up 16 points from a similar survey in the third quarter.

But my next question causes the disconnect: How many new hires have you made?

Around half say they’re adding staff as fast as they can. The others, however, fall into two groups: those that are trying to stress the system to see how much more work their existing team can handle, and the others who say they’re unable to find enough candidates that have the right skill set.

Sound familiar?

Politics aside, this issue won’t be resolved at the polls next month. Rather, the heavy burden to resolve it falls on us.

Job growth has always been a lagging indicator in the nation’s overall economic health rather than a leading indicator — economic growth happens first, and then the jobs come. But this time around, we have learned how to do more with less.

Part of it is a visceral aftereffect of the Great Recession. We’re wary about staffing up at the first sign of sales growth. But part of it is structural — we have re-evaluated personnel approaches, relying more on contract work, specialization and greater efficiencies.

Further, when we do add staff, many of us have trouble finding skilled workers to fill the jobs we actually need to fill. We’ve learned — although we probably already knew — that we haven’t been properly training people for the jobs of tomorrow.

It is critical that we think about tomorrow’s workforce differently than we have thought about the workforce we have today — or had yesterday.

We need to forge stronger partnerships with high schools, colleges and universities and work together to develop more relevant training programs and internships that provide on-the-job opportunities for students and employers so that we can better match skills and needs.

If we don’t change our paradigm on the workforce, it won’t matter how great demand is for our products and services because we won’t be able to staff our companies with the people we need to deliver.

Dustin Klein is publisher and vice president of operations for Smart Business Network Inc.