Academic journal article Journal of Small Business Strategy

Attracting Today's Educated Workforce: Opportunities and Challenges for Small Business Firms

Academic journal article Journal of Small Business Strategy

Attracting Today's Educated Workforce: Opportunities and Challenges for Small Business Firms

Article excerpt


Attracting quality employees is particularly critical for the small business; the increasingly required advanced skills of today's educated workforce present an additional challenge. This segment of the workforce is reputed to make job selection decisions based on lifestyle preferences that may disadvantage many small firms. This survey of 476 college graduates from 1979, 1989, and 2000 does not support new popularized views of job choice criteria. Results of the study suggest that small firms frequently possess numerous attributes highly valued by today's educated workforce - work challenge and variety, potential salary growth, congenial supportive co-workers, and more family-oriented atmosphere - that can be exploited in recruiting efforts. Important attributes that small firms need to improve upon include health insurance and pension plan benefits, and increased levels of autonomy. Overall, the study finds more opportunities than challenges for small businesses seeking to attract today's educated workforce.


The critical role of competent, dedicated and energetic employees in high performing organizations is well recognized. This role is magnified in entrepreneurial and small business firms, where each employee represents a sizable proportion of the entire company workforce, and where employee responsibilities are likely to evolve as the firm grows. Attracting employees who are capable of seeing and furthering the entrepreneurial vision has been identified by entrepreneurs as a core component for basic firm survival, as well as for firm growth (Mehta, 1996). Attracting and retaining qualified employees has also been noted as an endemic problem for small business firms (Dennis, 2000; Gupta & Tannenbaum, 1989; Hornsby & Kuratko, 1990; Phillips, 2004). This problem becomes more pressing as human resources increasingly become the key source of competitive advantage in our knowledgebased society (Katz, Aldrich, Welbourne & Williams, 2000).

Advanced technology skills, developed intellect, and creativity necessary to address escalating competition through continuous improvement of products, processes, and service increasingly call for educated and possibly younger employees, popularly referred to as "the new economy workforce" or "the creative class". According to Richard Florida (2002), this group encompasses a wide range of individuals from science and engineering, medicine and law, business and technology, architecture and design, and music and entertainment, including not just computer specialists, but artists, writers, educators, and entrepreneurs. These are the people called upon to exercise independent judgement, using their advanced knowledge and resourceful posture to engage in complex problem solving and develop creative initiatives. Satisfying this broad and critical segment of the labor force can further complicate existing staffing dilemmas for the small firm. These workers are described as mobile individualists requiring autonomy and a rich social, cultural, and natural environment, strongly favoring urban centers and a critical mass of other educated professionals for networking and socializing (Florida, 2002). The more basic structural context and substantially thinner professional ranks of small companies compared to large firms creates additional challenges for small firms, especially those outside urban areas, striving to attract and retain this vital component of today's workforce.

This paper describes a recent survey of educated workers that contributes useful insight by examining decision factors that influence an individual's choice among employment options. Respondents are college graduates from 1979, 1989, and 2000, representing many fields of study. Factors,found to be most important and least important when making employment decisions were identified, leading to pragmatic implications for the recruitment and retention of today's educated workers in small business firms. …

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