Q: In today's economy, with very low unemployment rates, it can be very difficult to find qualified applicants for jobs that require a skilled workforce. What can small businesses do to compete to attract and retain talent? Are there any creative avenues companies can take in order to make it more affordable?

April Davis, owner and founder, LUMA

A: Recruiting and retention are progressively important to an organization's growth and continued survival. Increasingly, an "employer of choice" has to focus on four key areas:

Candidate sourcing. Organizations must devise creative and differing ways to source candidates. An often-overlooked applicant source is the currently employed population. Employee feedback should be a critical component of your recruitment process, both on desired candidate competencies and potential sources. Establishing an employee referral program may be a good way of incentivizing the recruitment of applicants. There are also ways to incentivize potential applicants. In times when there are shortages in the workforce or in particular occupations, some employers will offer sign-on bonuses.

Hire for values, train for skills. Finding suitable candidates — those with the "best fit" vs. candidates with the "most qualifications," will continue to be challenging. A qualified applicant has the technical skills necessary for a role within your organization; however, the best applicants are those who have the interest and ability to learn, and fit well with the values and culture of the organization.

Employee engagement. Competitive pay, benefits, employee recognition and employee assistance programs are all part of a company's attempt to maintain employee satisfaction and engagement. Proactive employers are continually recruiting their current employees.

Employee development. Developing and managing employees can be expensive, but those costs pale in comparison to recruiting expenses.

And finally, by demonstrating that your organization is an "employer of choice," the most qualified applicants will have conducted research on your organization to ensure they are spending their time wisely in considering your opportunity.

K. David Hirschey is an adjunct professor of management at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business.