As an owner of a recruiting company for the disaster restoration industry, I get asked that question at least once a week. Unfortunately, the answer is yes, it is. Unless you’ve been living under a rock (please forward me your address so I can move in), you know our new president is planning on adding jobs to the U.S. market faster than Michael Phelps won Olympic medals. With unemployment rates below 5 percent since 2008, it’s not going to get any easier to find great employees. In fact, it’s going to get harder.

Case in point: Water technicians. This is our most difficult position to fill. They’re the face of your company, the first to respond, and that oh-so-critical first impression. These folks are key in getting the reconstruction job, and we just don’t have enough of them.

Where did they all go? What happened to the guys who took wood shop in high school? Where are the plumbers, HVAC techs, framers, and electricians?

It’s simple: They’re in college. Why? Because parents tell their kids to go to school and get a good job, only to compete for a $25,000 to $30,000 salary when they get out. The competition is real.

Some of you have probably seen Mike Rowe and Norm Abrams’ campaign about the “skill gap” in our country. They are reporting 5.6 million jobs will go unfilled due to lack of skilled labor. As the father of two boys, I’ll be happy if our kids follow in their grandfather’s footsteps and become a HVAC technician, and eventually start their own business (I can personally testify that his home is a lot nicer than so many of the other college grads that went to school years ago when he decided to become a tech).

So, have you given serious thought to who you’re competing with for employees?

Most of you think it’s the other restoration company across town, but you might be surprised to learn who your real competition is. The people who didn’t go to college are working for the place where you spend most of your money on the weekends: I’m talking about the big blue and gold electronic store, the big box home improvement stores, the super bullseye store. And it makes perfect sense. Put yourself in your entry-level employees’ shoes. The big box store is going to offer them 40 hours a week, benefits, a lunch break, they don’t have to work in the elements, and they’re not on call.

Look at the alternative the restoration industry is offering to entry-level employees. Sure, I get it, “this is the industry we’re in”; but you didn’t have to compete with those other companies years ago. Things have changed.

Now that you know what you’re up against, what are you going to offer potential employees that will attract them to want to work for you?

Money will help, but it will only last so long. I talk with candidates in all levels of our industry each day, and many are leaving for less money, less stress and fewer hours. If we add up the two scenarios above – the skill gap and the competition for employees – you see the challenges that lie ahead. And unfortunately, it’s not going to get any easier anytime soon.

Mike Rowe’s resources (just a tad stronger than mine) are focusing on Generation Next. It’s a long-range plan to educate young people to become skilled tradesmen and women, because college is not for everyone. Don’t get me wrong, we need college-educated people in this world, but it’s safe to say most kids go to school because that’s what they were told to do since they were young, and they have no idea what they want to do when they are finished – much less how they’re going to pay for it.

This is where the value of a good recruiting company can’t be overstated. To get to these young people who are forgoing college for less debt and entering into the big box stores’ workforce, or those who inevitably did go the college route and are now trying to make themselves look better than their peers, you need a lot of time and a lot of skill. You’ve got to convince your recruit that going on-call and cleaning up messes is better than standing inside an air conditioned (or heated) building.  Your day-to-day workload, topped with the challenges of finding good people, are only going to prolong you trying to fill that open position. Find a good company and get that next employee before your competition does.

One last piece of advice? Shop the big box stores and see what you can add to your company that they’ve been doing for years.