Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak may have started Apple in a garage, but they aren’t unique in launching a huge company from small beginnings. Starbucks was launched by two teachers and a writer in 1971, and Amazon and Google began in garages too. When Whole Foods was getting off the ground, their founders were so strapped for cash that they slept in their store.
Companies don’t magically appear out of thin air with thousands of employees, huge campuses and millions in revenue: things start small. But of course, just because a company is large doesn’t mean it’s successful, and for many businesses becoming a behemoth is not necessarily the point.
For employees, there can be many advantages to working at a small business. Because there are fewer people than at giant enterprises, this can translate into more responsibility and the opportunity to work in multiple areas. As a result, workers have a chance to grow and learn quickly.
But with US unemployment at record lows, hiring is challenging for many employers—and small businesses are no exception. The average number of days that jobs are remaining open is at an all-time high (30.4 working days), and in a recent Indeed survey, more than half of small businesses said they found it somewhat difficult or very difficult to find the right employee for their business. And it doesn’t appear to be getting easier over time—35% say it’s harder to hire now than it was five years ago.
What are the hardest-to-fill roles at small businesses?
Using Indeed data, we looked at this problem in detail by analyzing the specific jobs that have been open for more than 60 days at companies with 150 or fewer employees. Job postings can be open for longer than 60 days for different reasons—in this case Indeed uses this measure as a proxy for hiring difficulty. Using this information, we’ve highlighted some especially difficult-to-fill positions and compiled a list of the hardest-to-fill roles based on the percentage of openings for that role after two months.
Using our measure of percentage of jobs open after 60 days, we see that the most difficult jobs to fill at small businesses cut across many industries, reflecting an overall tight national labor market. The list features roles from health care (medical sales executives and nurses) to sports (gymnastics coach) to beauty (barber/stylist).
At the top, the most difficult position to fill is medical sales executive, with half of all jobs still open 60 days after posting. Medical sales executives promote and sell their companies’ products, anything from pharmaceutical drugs to medical equipment, and even health care professionals.
Two other roles in the field of health care seem particularly tricky to fill for small businesses—number six is registered telemetry nurse (nurses who monitor patients’ vital signs, with 41.6% of jobs unfilled after 60 days), and number nine is labor and delivery nurse (40.9% of jobs remain unfilled after 60 days). The nursing shortage has been well documented, and with good reason—though there is growth in the field of nursing, to date it has not been enough to fill demand for nurses, especially as the U.S.’s older population grows in size and needs more health care.
Snowplow operators, those crucial weather responders in cold climates, were the second-hardest-to-fill small business jobs. After two months, 49.4% of postings for this job were still open. It’s easy to imagine the crisis that a shortage of snowplow operators presents during a blizzard, when the entire transportation network can shut down. Waiting two months to fill positions could mean that the snow will already have melted by the time you have your hires in place!
In fact, this past winter, the state of Maine got so desperate for help that they hired private contractors from Ohio to help fill snowplow jobs, demonstrating that looking outside your region for employees is an option to address shortages (and not just for snowplow jobs!).
A number of jobs in the tax and finance sector are also staying open longer than business owners would like. These include number-three tax manager (48.4% of jobs still open after 60 days), number-seven senior auditor (41.2% of jobs open after 60 days), number-eight tax professional (41.1% of jobs open after 60 days), and number-ten pricing analyst (40.9% of jobs open after 60 days).
Certain home and building jobs are also hard to fill, reflecting a national construction boom without enough workers to support the high demand for new homes and other buildings. In fact, a 2018 survey found that a whopping 87% of contractors, construction managers, builders and trade contractors said that it was at least moderately difficult to find skilled workers.
Jobs in this field on our list were realtor associates, at number four (43.3% of jobs open after 60 days), carpet installers at number five (42.2% of jobs open after 60 days) and senior structural engineers at number eleven (40.7% of jobs open after 60 days).
Automation can’t solve this problem
An interesting feature of the jobs included here is that few of them are likely to be replaced by automation in the near future. According to research by Oxford University, characteristics of jobs least likely to be replaced by robots include requiring a high level of human interaction and years of study to master, which applies to many of the jobs on our list.
It’s difficult to imagine machines delivering babies (nurses face a 0.9% chance of being replaced by automation), giving haircuts (hairstylists face an 11% chance of replacement) or managing people living in dorms or group housing (residential advisors face a 6.5% chance of replacement).
This is good news for job seekers in these fields, but for employers it’s a different lesson—you can’t wait around for the shortage of candidates to be solved by automation.
So how can small businesses fill these roles?
How to attract candidates to hard-to-fill roles
1. Write good job descriptions
Job descriptions are often the most important piece of early communication an employer has to give a job seeker, but many of them are too long, too confusing or too dry to attract the attention of top talent.
One best practice is to prioritize the job seeker—what basic things would they want to know about your job? A simple and clear description will give a potential employee an idea of the role and responsibilities and whether or not it’s a good fit. Consider how long your job descriptions are as well—research shows that keeping things between 700 and 1,100 words gets about 24% more applications.
Finally, making job descriptions interesting and engaging will encourage potential employees to spend more time reading them and interacting with other company materials. Write like a human; people engage more with content they enjoy, and this includes job descriptions.
2. Provide flexibility when possible
Small businesses may not have the deep pockets of large corporations, but you don’t have to have a huge budget to offer attractive benefits to employees. Flexibility, a perk that is in high demand among job seekers, is a cost-free benefit that businesses can offer employees. Flexibility can benefit employers as well—it has been correlated with an increase in loyalty among millennials, who make up 35% of all workers, the largest segment of today’s labor force.
Though some jobs on the hardest-to-fill list cannot be done remotely (there’s no such thing as a “remote barber”), this is a great option for companies that can offer it. It can even be something simple—do your employees need to visit the dentist from time to time? Don't force them to take time off. They want to take an hour to see their kid’s school play? Don't fret about it.
3. Get creative with perks
There are plenty of additional perks that don’t have to break the bank. It may take a bit of creativity, but things like in-office yoga or fitness classes, or providing coffee and comfortable lounge spaces for your employees, can go a long way to making your company more attractive to job seekers.
While the jobs we compiled are some of the toughest to fill right now, hiring is challenging for many roles with the current low unemployment rate.
Being strategic about attracting job seekers through good job descriptions and then offering potential employees the flexibility and benefits you can will make your company stand out in a competitive environment and help fill the roles that have been open the longest.
Carmen Bryant is Global Director, Employer Insights at Indeed.
To create this list, we calculated the percentage of postings per job title that are open more than 60 days in the US from January - March 2018 for companies with fewer than 150 employees.