Editor’s Note: David M. Solomon is chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs. Kenneth Adams is president of LaGuardia Community College. The opinions expressed in this commentary are their own.
America’s more than 30 million small businesses have been some of the hardest hit by the pandemic. They employ nearly half of our workforce, and yet they’re far less resourced and capitalized than they were just 18 months ago. And now, entrepreneurs from New York City to Dallas say a labor shortage is holding them back.
It’s true, of course, that companies of all sizes are feeling the labor crunch, but the shortage is particularly felt amongst these small business owners who are still struggling to bounce back post-Covid. Goldman Sachs recently conducted a survey of 1,145 small business owners across 48 states and a variety of industries, and 64% say their workforce challenges have worsened since Covid-19 hit. The overwhelming majority are hiring, and 87% of those hiring are finding it difficult to recruit qualified candidates. Most — 80% — say difficulty hiring is affecting their bottom line.
The solution might be closer than it seems. One under-tapped talent pool is the nation’s community colleges. These educational institutions are anchors of their local communities as well as centers of mobility and innovation. And the students there are hungry for opportunity. They can help solve the labor shortage crisis.
Historically underrepresented, students at community colleges are less likely to have the professional networks that their peers at four-year universities enjoy. They’re generally lower-income, parents, and first-generation students. Many students often work while attending school, but looking for internships can be the quickest route to future career opportunities in their fields of interest.
Armed with this knowledge, Goldman Sachs recently teamed up with community colleges in four cities, including LaGuardia Community College in Queens, New York, to create a pilot program that will provide hardworking students with internships paying $20 per hour. Students will be placed with small business owners who have completed 10,000 Small Businesses, Goldman Sachs’ business leadership and education program. These internships will give students work experience in their field of study and drive growth for participating businesses — a win-win for both.
We recently got the chance to meet with a few of the students at LaGuardia who will be working with business owners over the next several months. Their stories are inspiring. Waad Rabbani, a Bangladeshi immigrant, is studying to be an accountant, and Ana Pena, a mother of two, started her own cleaning company before deciding to pursue a degree in accounting.
We’re working with a diverse talent pool of 135 students this semester: 45% are African-American and 23% are Asian. And 56% of them are first-generation college students, while 40% have no prior work experience in their chosen field of interest.
These students are ready to work hard and live the American dream, but they need opportunity, and small businesses need talent to grow. We believe this pilot program is an example of how major corporations can use their platforms to help members of their communities connect and solve common challenges.
We all have a role to play in solving the challenges created by the pandemic. We believe crucial on-the-job training like this can help solve the labor crunch. But most importantly, we hope it will spark a reimagining of our workforce that builds a more dynamic and inclusive economy.