Small-Business Owners Lack Qualified Help

OWNERS of small and mid-sized businesses in the United States expect to hire more employees this year, but they are concerned about a dearth of qualified workers, reports a survey released this month.

After another year of steady growth and net profits, almost one-third of the 919 small and mid-sized companies polled plan to take on more help in the coming months, according to the fourth-annual study by Arthur Andersen's Enterprise Group and National Small Business United (NSBU), a Washington-based advocacy group.

Despite increased hiring, 25 percent of the owners say they consider the lack of qualified help a significant challenge to their continued growth and survival - up from 20 percent in 1994, and almost double the 1993 figure of 13 percent.

''At a time when businesses are trying to grow ... not being able to find [skilled workers] is a significant detriment,'' says Gary Kushner, chairman of NSBU and a small business owner.

Mr. Kushner says the American educational system is producing students who ''just really are not prepared.'' He says the skills owners are looking for range from reading an instruction manual or understanding a computer to ''personal responsibility'' skills, such as being on time to work.

As a result, owners are footing the education bill themselves. ''Sixty-seven percent of small businesses said they plan to invest in training their existing work force this year,'' Kushner explains, ''and that was to the tune of anywhere from 2 to 5 percent of annual revenues, which is a pretty significant investment.''

One solution to this potentially long-term problem, Kushner says, is for schools and businesses to collaborate to guide and train future workers. He says some such programs exist now, but until they are more widespread, the absence of skilled workers will most likely continue.

Being a team player counts in workplace

TEAM players have a better chance of getting ahead in the workplace, say executives. In a study by Accountemps, a staffing firm in Menlo Park, Calif., 57 percent of the 150 higher ups surveyed said ''poor team-player skills'' were likely to hurt an employee's chances for success, followed by complacency and excessive complaining. Says Accountemps chairman Max Messmer: ''The office of the '90s, of necessity, has become less hierarchical - increasingly, managers are relying more on collaborative efforts than on chains-of-command.''

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