Nearly half of small businesses are struggling to find skilled candidates: RPT

Tom Sullivan, Vice President of Small Business Policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, joins Yahoo Finance to discuss small businesses' decisions in vaccination requirements and the struggle to find workers.

Video Transcript

JARED BLIKRE: Vaccine mandates have become a controversial mainstay of the pandemic. And the US Chamber of Commerce is out with the latest State of the Workforce report, finding that workers who don't comply with the vaccine or testing requirements, 43% of small businesses say they're going to replace them. But only 10% say they've already done so.

Tom Sullivan, vice president of Small Business Policy at the US Chamber of Commerce is here to break down the report. And Tom, I just recited one of the statistics from this report. But I think it gets at something that's at the heart of what we're doing right now. We have all these mandates. But when it comes to enforcement, not necessarily going to kick those workers out, especially in this labor market, this tight labor market.

TOM SULLIVAN: Well, Jared, you're absolutely right. What we find is that these headwinds of a worker shortage have been hitting Main Street pretty hard. And the report that we released today in conjunction with our partner MetLife shows that those headwinds of worker shortage have actually gotten a lot worse in the last four months.

I mean, right now, we see about-- I'm looking at my notes here. But we see that 44% of small businesses can't fill open positions. That's up 10% from just four months ago. So when you're looking at small business owners who have done everything humanly possible to educate their employees, rebuff false claims about vaccines, answer questions, hold town halls, everything possible to try to get their employees to get vaccinated, it makes sense that, with this worker shortage, they're not going to turn around and, all of a sudden, fire those employees that haven't necessarily done what they want them to do, and that is to get vaccinated.

It's also not surprising, if you follow that stream of emphasis where the small businesses especially want to keep their employees safe. They want their workplaces to be welcoming and safe for customers and clients as well. And lastly, and I think critically, because we don't want to forget this, small businesses do not want another situation where businesses are forced to close.

The only way to prevent that is to increase the percentage of vaccinations. So in that type of context, it's not too surprising that we showed, in this poll, that the majority of small businesses actually support a vaccination mandate or regular testing requirements.

JARED BLIKRE: Well, and I want to dig into one of the findings that you just alluded to or talked about a little bit. Specifically, nearly half of small businesses that are actively hiring say it is hard to find candidates with the skills they need, a significant jump from only 34% saying so in June.

And I just want to note the timeline here. June was actually before the rise of the Delta variant affected the US. We had a slowdown in labor. So if the comp is against June, doesn't that say that the problem is even more pronounced than we might have thought, had we been comparing to July or August?

TOM SULLIVAN: Jared, I couldn't agree with you more. And that's why we're working with Congress and the White House, telling them we have got to double down on employer-based job education and training because when we see this desperate need for the types of skills that employers want and that divide of businesses not being able to find workers, then the solution is obvious.

And we're certainly up on Capitol Hill every day, saying the same thing. I think this report gives additional ammunition for those advocates who really want to work and increase employer-based job education and training.

JARED BLIKRE: And I want to ask about masks. I didn't really see anything in your report. Maybe you didn't cover this specifically. But in your position where you talk to a lot of small business owners, the mask mandates are fairly controversial as well. I'm just wondering if you can add any color with respect to them.

TOM SULLIVAN: We look at small businesses, which is really the blessing of my day-to-day as a small business advocate. It gets really personal and mostly in a positive way. Shop owners that are looking towards Small Business Saturday, for instance, looking towards the holiday season, they want their customers to feel safe about coming into their establishments and spending money.

And one of the ways that they can feel safe is if it just feels normal to wear a mask. And so while we see, certainly, that the support for vaccination mandates for businesses with over 100 employees, while that is up, we also see support for the requirement that customers wear masks. And it's not really a masks are good or bad, it's what will it take for a customer to feel comfortable, get out, spend money, help the business grow sales?

But keep in mind that behind all of this sentiment and optimism about doing well when folks are vaccinated and when customers are wearing masks, the small businesses still need employees. They are desperate for employees.

I spoke with a candy manufacturer up in Minnesota the other day. She generally has about 300 employees. She's down 100 employees. So 1/3 of her workforce she can't find. And this is the busiest season leading up to the holidays. So this worker shortage headwinds is real. Our poll shows that it's actually gotten worse. And so we need some solutions pretty quickly, or else it's going to be a long, long holiday season for small business.

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