2 big reasons high-profile start-ups attract top talent despite US skills gap crisis

One of the biggest challenges for the company founders and CEOs, right up there with scaling the company into a sustainable business, is finding qualified employees. Yet those on CNBC’s Disruptor 50 list — the 50 companies CNBC believes have the potential to upend multibillion-dollar industries to become the next generation of great public companies — revealed they are actually seeing progress when it comes to hiring.

That’s a little surprising, as small-business owners continue to report that finding qualified workers isa huge challenge.A May study of small businesses by the National Federation of Independent Business, a trade group representing 325,000 small and independent business owners across America, one third of small businesses have a job opening they can’t fill, and nearly a quarter of all small-business owners claim that finding qualified workers is their single most important business problem. The April 2018 NFIB report revealed that while 57 percent of small businesses are hiring or planning to hire, 88 percent of them report difficulties finding qualified candidates.

So why are Disruptors having an easier time? One reason could be the fact that these fast growing, higher-profile companies are just more appealing to applicants than the average small business. In fact, three of this year’s Disruptor 50 companies, and five now-public former Disruptors, appeared on LinkedIn’s 2018 List of 50 Top Companies where professionals want to work.

It could point to an even more specific reason. A March 2017 study from PwC found a majority of women (and an almost equal majority of men) weigh the diversity of company leadership and workforce when they decide whether or not to work for an employer. So it might not be a coincidence that many of the Disruptor 50 companies that say it’s easier or even “a lot easier” to find qualified employees — like Rent the Runway and Thinx — have female CEOs.

A recent Global Information Security Workforce study supports their findings, at least in the information technology sector: Its study claims that as many as 1.8 million IT jobs could be unfilled by 2022. That is 20 percent more than what the same study predicted two years earlier.

Rodney Williams, the CEO and co-founder of three-time disruptor Lisnr, this year at No. 22, has reaped the benefits of being a desired place to work, especially in Cincinnati, where Lisnr was founded.

More from CNBC Disruptor 50:

How Uber, Airbnb and other star start-ups scale up for success
Spotify’s IPO disrupted Wall St. What’s ahead for unicorns looking to go public
When Silicon Valley VCs write the check, women get less, but that’s changing

“In Cincinnati we were able to attract the superstars,” said Williams, speaking at CNBC’s Disruptor 50 Roadshow event in Los Angeles last month. Still, he said, the company struggled to fill management positions. “We had a challenge finding talent that had done this before, who knew the nuances of … taking a business to the next step.” Lisnr has since set up shop in Oakland, California, where it’s been able to tap the Silicon Valley talent pool.

Back in Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti said the city’s assortment of universities helps ensure that local tech entrepreneurs can find plenty of talent, but there’s a dramatic hiring gap in other industries. “What keeps me up is not whether tech companies will have those workers, but closing the gap in other places.” By this he means finding qualified workers in fields other than in tech.

“We have trade jobs. We have things at the port where 40 percent of the goods come into America. We want to make sure those high-paying jobs stay there for the future. Electrifying our trucks and our logistics fleet to reduce pollution. Those are the gaps I think that I want to fill in terms of skills, to be able to put people into community college and find those levels.”

He added: “If we are going to build 40 years’ worth of rapid transit lines, we can get those workers from other states. But we should be growing them here so they don’t need a college degree to have a middle-class job as a laborer, electrician, a construction worker.”

Nationwide, however, the information technology sector has the highest rate of job openings among all sectors of the U.S. economy. The Labor Department’s most recent survey of Job Openings and Labor Turnover (also known as the JOLT Survey) reveals there were 178,000 open tech jobs in April, up more than 50 percent from April 2017.

So while some Disruptor 50 companies may have their pick of the best candidates, tech firms in general have increasingly more open positions, with increasingly fewer people available to fill them.

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