The disconnect between unemployed and small businesses

By Jim Kendall

This column originally appeared in the July 21, 2014 Daily Herald



Logic says the still large pool of unemployed workers should be a good source of employees for small businesses, but talks with two deeply involved employment experts indicate that’s not the case: Except among younger individuals, who apparently see more of the potential and less of the risk, small businesses are deemed too risky by many job seekers.

Fear seems to rule.

“Go into a small business as an employee? Start their own business?” repeats Mayer Smith. “The white collar, middle income professional who has been at Lucent or Navistar the past 10 or 15 years, has never looked for a job before but has been laid off – well, they don’t want to work for a small business. They assume that business doesn’t have the money to pay them what they need.

“And they don’t have the capital to start a business. They’re scared to do it.

“We haven’t seen too much transitioning to small businesses,” Smith says.

Smith is a volunteer PATH Group facilitator at Naperville’s Compass Church. PATH assists people with career changes, most not of their own choice. During the day, Smith is an employment specialist at the Association for Individual Development, Aurora, which seeks employment for the developmentally disabled.

“Entrepreneurs know there is good talent out there, and I know several who have tried to lure unemployed workers (into the small business sector),” Smith says. “They’ve had some success, but they’re in the minority.”

There is interest in small business opportunities, however. In the northwest suburbs, for example, Bob Podgorski sees “a continuous flow of people interested in start-ups and employment in small businesses.”

Who’s attracted is somewhat surprising.

The most interested demographic is “Younger – and almost anxious to avoid larger enterprises,” says Podgorski, principal of RPP Enterprises, a career programming consultancy in Hoffman Estates; long-time mover behind the Saint Hubert Job and Networking Ministry; and developer of an embryonic employment support center for Schaumburg Township.

“We’re seeing young people out of college, living at home, don’t have a lot of expenses and see just as much risk of being laid off at a large company as working for a smaller one,” Podgorski says.

“There’s risk in small business, but there’s also excitement and potential,” especially in a market where, according to Podgorski, 40 percent of the jobs are contract or part-time.

Nonetheless, the aversion to risk among the unemployed is understandable, especially if you’ve walked in their footsteps. “Corporate guys can’t think entrepreneurially,” Smith says. “They have families, mortgages, tuitions, bills. They tell me, ‘I’m gonna go flip burgers or go back to school and get retrained in a new field.’”

Smith does have an option for potential employers, however – if your business has the right type of project: The developmentally disabled who work at AID facilities in Aurora and Elgin.

“Small assembly jobs are ideal for us,” Smith says. “Our people are very happy with repetitive work.”


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