Growing the workforce supports small businesses and increases workplace productivity

Small businesses continue to have a remarkably difficult time hiring and retaining talent.

This stubborn and persistent problem, which became increasingly pronounced during the pandemic, often causes business owners and their employees to endure pressure and stress.

After years of struggling with a workforce shortage that impacts the productivity and effectiveness of both business owners and employees, it is time to enact meaningful legislation that will transition people into the workforce.

Governor J.B. Pritzker’s State of the State and budget address highlighted a childcare tax credit to help working parents get back to work. Establishing this tax credit will support working families, small businesses, and pump money back into local economies.

Legislators should finally pass the SAFER Communities Act, which will provide wage subsidies to businesses that hire formerly incarcerated individuals and increase the tax credit for small businesses that hire returning citizens.

Providing businesses with resources to provide on-the-job training to formerly incarcerated individuals will support small businesses struggling to hire employees, help returning citizens enter the workforce, proactively improve public safety, and reduce the costs of recidivism.

Occupational licensing reform also can supplement the workforce by removing barriers that preclude potential employees from working in certain fields. Occupational licenses that are overly broad, extremely costly, or unnecessary should be modified or changed. People licensed in other states also should be able to come into Illinois and work without facing unreasonable obstacles.

A healthy workforce is more productive for many reasons, including that when employees are unable to get the medical care needed, they often cannot work effectively, if at all.

For this reason and others, it is imperative that small businesses are able to provide affordable, quality health insurance for their employees.

Last year, the SBAC championed legislation that provides the Illinois Department of Insurance the authority to deny or modify excessive premium increases that make it difficult for small businesses to procure affordable health insurance. In doing so, Illinois joined more than 40 states that already have implemented prior approval in some capacity. This law, which takes effect in 2026, also increases transparency so the policymakers and the public can better understand what drives the costs of health insurance.

More must be done to rein in the costs of health insurance for small businesses and support a healthy workforce. The high cost of certain drugs significantly impacts health insurance premiums and pending legislation addressing that issue should be passed. It also is imperative employees who need medical attention are able to procure treatment without facing needless obstacles that may impair treatment.

Small businesses will need to continue exploring new and innovative ways to foster connectivity, productivity, and satisfaction in the workplace.

Remote work has significantly changed many industries, and the post pandemic economy offers new challenges and opportunities nearly across the board.

Small businesses, however, can only grow if they have enough employees to support their operations. There should be collaboration between stakeholders to grow our workforce, help keep employees healthy, and ensure small businesses can hire and retain the employees needed to succeed.

• Elliot Richardson is co-founder and president of the Small Business Advocacy Council.

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