June 29, 2005--The unemployment rate is going down, and the number of skilled workers available to fill positions is falling with it.

According to a study released by Chicago-based Challenger, Gray & Christmas, 44% of human resource executives say qualified workers are increasingly difficult to find, especially for small businesses.

John Challenger, the outplacement firm's chief executive, said after three years of stagnation, job creation is finally affecting the economy. And because more people are employed, small businesses can't find, or attract, the qualified workers they need. "Small businesses are more vulnerable in that bigger companies have more sophisticated means to get at people in terms of their outreach and ability to lure them in with packages, Challenger said.

In addition to decreasing unemployment, certain industries are unable to sustain their economic momentum because there just aren't enough skilled workers. According to the National Federation for Independent Businesses, vocational jobs, such as construction workers and health care professionals, rank high on the most-wanted list.

Bruce Phillips, senior economist at the NFIB Research Foundation, said we are entering an era when occupations like plumbers, electricians, and nurses are becoming less attractive. At the same time, the labor force is growing rather slowly, mainly because of the soon-to-be retiring baby boomers, which could create a basic supply and demand issue. Phillips adds that small businesses are pickier than larger companies when it comes to hiring their employees.

"Small firm employers are like family, so they're fussier when they hire," he said. "They may do drug testing or look at credit reports."

When owners want to expand their companies, they often hand the finances over to someone else. But financial professionals are one segment of skilled workers who are hard to find.

Kevin Roth, research director at the Association for Financial Professionals, said business schools just don't have the curriculum to support aspiring treasurers. Also, many of the entry-level positions have been replaced with technology, so many accountants don't have the experience that small business owners desire.

Until the employee pool gets bigger -- and better -- the only advice Challenger can offer companies is to consider posting jobs on websites like Hotjobs.com or Monster.com, and ask employees to take on more responsibilities.