Jim Collins once said, "Great vision without great people is irrelevant."

In 1936 John Maynard Keynes coined the phrase "animal spirits" in his seminal book The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money.  He used the term to describe emotions which influence human economic behavior.  Healthy animal spirits create an ambience of trust and faith and are a necessary prerequisite for human actions, much more than quantitative logic.  Keynes believed animal spirits were needed as a goad to positive economic action.

Well, right now our animal spirits are soaring.  Especially in the small business community.  It's like a very wet blanket suddenly has been lifted off of entrepreneurship in the last year.  Here's what happened.

  1. The independent business person is no longer being cast a villain.  She is starting to be celebrated again.  In last Sunday's New York Post Charlie Gasparino noted that the current US government no longer views business women and men as enemies "to be taxed, regulated, or jailed, but as people who deserve to prosper."  
  2. Layers of bureaucratic ca-ca are being excised.  Enormous efficiencies are coming because Washington is now actively trying to encourage growth by reducing labyrinthine bureaucratic silliness and incomprehensibility.
  3. Taxes are being cut.

This may be oversimplification, but it generally sums up why the small business economy is suddenly booming.

That said, however, the Wall Street Journal reports that fully two-thirds of small business owners faced a shortage of workers last month--particularly skilled workers.  Therefore, according to a February survey of 739 firms for the Wall Street Journal by Vistage Worldwide, 87% of firms have increased recruiting, while nearly 60% have boosted wages.  We now have the increasing problem of an abundance of prosperity and a paucity of employees to fulfill demand.  

Therefore, small business increasingly needs to find some ways to recruit new employees.

In the past I have suggested using vastly under-used and under-appreciated older workers.  These folks want to work and often have the untrainable benefits of experience and human wisdom.  They could be a whole new category of useful workers.  Seniors are not always looking for full-time work but are enthusiastic to contribute meaningfully to society.  And they often will work surprisingly inexpensively, if allowed flexibility.  ("The Ultra-Productive Workers You're Probably Overlooking")

Here are a few out-of-the-box ideas that are ameliorating the recruitment and hiring conundrum, as listed in the WSJ last month.

  • Mack Molding, a contract manufacturer and plastics molder in Vermont with 600  employees, gives their college interns real responsibility for creating prototypes and training videos.  They also offer free memberships in the local gym and golf clubs.
  • Small firms are taking on more interns generally.  The WSJ quotes Sheila Burkett, CEO of Spry Digital in St. Louis (17 employees), as saying simply, "Being small, it's hard to compete with the big companies throwing lots of money at talent."
  • GW Plastics Inc. brings in students from two local high schools in Bethel, Vermont to its plant, where students take for-credit hands-on classes in advanced manufacturing.  (Students from one class actually designed and manufactured a new, functional cellphone cradle.)
  • APT Manufacturing Solutions, a robotics and automation firm based in Hicksville, Ohio, has created an internal training center at its plant, where high school students can receive up to ten hours of college credit as well as a job upon graduation.
  • Siteline Interior Carpentry, a Chicago architectural wood working firm, opened a new location and training facility in Texas, in conjunction with the carpenters union in Austin and Dallas.  Siteline has agreed to hire at least 10 of 24 trainees who took the first class in January.

"Necessity is the mother of invention" is a truism nimble entrepreneurs well understand.