From the October 2002 issue of Entrepreneur

Three years ago, companies were hiring anyone with a pulse. When the economy starts to show signs of life again, it's a given tons of talent will be camping out at your doorstep, right?

Keep dreaming. Some experts on the economy are predicting that this downturn has been providing cover for a looming talent shortage that will be worse than the one we experienced in 1999.

"Baby boomers are retiring," says Susan P. Ascher, a labor market futurist and CEO of The Ascher Group, an executive staffing company in Roseland, New Jersey. "There are 76 million baby boomers and 46 million Generation Xers out there. Do the math." Add to those going out the growing gaps in education and training for those coming in, and you have trends that may intensify the next labor crunch.

When business picks up, hiring is going to be far from easy. "It's going to be tougher to fill positions across the board, depending on the skill level you're looking for," says Tony Lee, Princeton, New Jersey-based editor-in-chief of career development site CareerJournal.com.

There's evidence small employers are already trying to staff up. Of 500 small-business owners recently surveyed by International Communications Research, 23 percent said they planned to increase their full-time employment by this fall. But 27 percent indicated difficulty finding qualified employees, despite a rising unemployment rate.

Greg Brill, founder and CEO of 5-year-old Infusion Development Corp., a 30-employee financial software development company in New York City with annual sales of $5 million, plans to hire up to 20 new employees during the next few years. Brill, 32, doesn't buy the hype, and he's not hiring to beat the rush. "I don't fear another labor crunch," he says.

Instead, Brill predicts employers will be much more cautious in their hiring decisions than they were in 1999, an anomaly that "will never happen again. It was crazy. Now it's a return to the old school," Brill says.

Still, savvy entrepreneurs aren't waiting for the night before the final to cram. Brill offers his employees referral bonuses and has networked vigorously during the downturn. "The best people always have options," he says. "You have to go after them."

To paraphrase a sports term, the best defense against a looming talent shortage will be a good offense. Says Brill: "Know who you'd [hire] if you had the business."

Contact Sources