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How can SMEs tackle impending recruitment challenges?

Written by Paula Devine | 09 Aug 2018

Commenting on last quarter’s results of the British Chamber of Commerce (BCC) Quarterly Economic Survey, Adam Marshall, Director General of the BCC, said:

“The availability of skilled staff remains the biggest issue that firms face. 

Unless the government gets a handle on the disarray in the training and apprenticeship system and sets out a clear immigration policy that enables firms to cover vacancies, the economic potential of many areas across the UK will continue to be held back.”

Similarly, Albion Capital reports that half of SMEs are revisiting their recruitment strategies as a result of Brexit. So it is clear that investing in staff is a top priority for many SMEs.

But what does this mean for the future? Does Brexit post a threat? Do SMEs need to be worried?

Skill shortages might worsen if post-Brexit restrictions cap the recruitment of EU staff.

The availability of skilled staff could potentially pose challenges for firms across multiple industries, in particular manufacturers. The manufacturers’ organisation, the EEF, has urged that European workers have the right to work in the UK for up to five years and then apply for permanent residency.

The tightening job market is putting increasing pressure on businesses to attract and retain the most valuable talent, prompting multiple UK businesses to revisit their recruitment strategies. Businesses must seek candidates that not only bring the relevant skills but are also a strong cultural fit and demonstrate long-term potential if they are to achieve sustainability.

Let’s look at how businesses might approach a newly revised recruitment strategy in order to prioritise longevity, optimise internal talent, and adapt to the new climate.

The recruitment process

Taking the time to consider the expectations of your ideal employee can help inform your recruitment strategy. For example, HR Magazine found that 8 in 10 professionals are unlikely to accept a job offer if they were treated poorly during the recruitment process, and will recount that bad experience to at least one person.

Employer branding and reputation are extremely important in this instance, providing a strong interview/vetting process, induction process and support will contribute to a more well-rounded recruitment process that will communicate your culture and brand and keep valuable candidates interested.

Junior staff

Junior staff might not have all of the experience required to excel right away, but taking the time to invest and nurture your younger candidates can generate a significant, long-term ROI (return on investment). Of course, this is a substantial investment of time that might not be viable for all employers, particularly those in the earlier stages of building their business model. In this instance, one might prioritise cultural fit and work ethic above certifications and qualifications. Anything can be taught if the employee is willing, receptive, and passionate.  

One might also consider utilising the UK apprenticeship levy. As stated by Adam Marshall, the government needs to get a handle on apprenticeship strategies, and there are many benefits to the apprenticeship levy, which we have spoken about before. By taking advantage of the levy, businesses can not only up-skill existing workers but nurture and mould new apprentices into the roles that might otherwise struggle to fill, directly resolving any internal skills gaps. This empowers employees to take control of internal talent development and development while using the levy to its full benefit.


Your recruitment strategy also needs to be ‘millennial-friendly’ in an ever-increasing millennial landscape. This involves the cultivating a flexible culture, as well as ‘social’ recruitment platforms (think Skype, Facebook and LinkedIn). Virtual roles are an effective way of broadening the scope for hiring from this soon-to-be dominant cohort.

Millennials consider culture the primary differentiator between an attractive company and a not-so-attractive organisation. Is your organisation ticking some, if not all of the boxes when it comes to millennial-friendly culture? Offering virtual working and a free lunch might not be enough. While these perks will undoubtedly attract millennial talent, retaining them requires an ongoing development and engagement strategy. It’s about creating a sense of purpose, providing ongoing feedback and praise, and positioning your corporate social responsibility in alignment with their environmental advocacy. This is becoming incredibly vital if organisations want to succeed and thrive in the digital future, driven by millennial values.

Skilled workers

There is a growing difficulty in finding skilled workers in areas such as sales, marketing and IT roles, and this is becoming one of the biggest barriers to business growth. The UK skills crisis has been making headlines as of late, and executives within mid-size UK businesses need to address this gap in order to grow. According to a survey by AIBGB, professional services, hotels & leisure, and manufacturing report the biggest concerns when it comes to the skills gap, but the shortage has a negative impact across all sectors, affecting the ability to recruit and retain skilled employees at all levels. Finding the right people is one of the most common obstacles to business growth, and reportedly, 22 per cent of small and medium-sized businesses would put increasing staff numbers at the top of their to-do list if their revenue were to double. With the demand for industry-specific skills on the rise, such as compliant-specific and cybersecurity roles, HR are becoming more aware that they must adapt their strategies and recruitment processes to suit.

Skilled workers must be retained by engaging in meaningful and challenging roles.  Cybersecurity and compliance-related roles exist in an unpredictable climate, one in which changes are happening at an unprecedented rate. With training options and ongoing learning opportunities, keeping skills fresh and keeping skilled workers motivated is key to sustaining a strong pool of talent within your organisation.

Recruiting and upskilling from within

Data from the Office of National Statistics shows that low unemployment levels are parallel with low productivity levels. The impact of the skills gap is expected to hit mid-management the hardest, while also posing a significant threat to junior/executive roles. By investing in training and upskilling internally, it not only increases the productivity and motivation of existing staff but helps solve internal skill shortages. 80% of employers believe their team’s output has improved following internal or external training, and the career progression that comes with it promotes better job satisfaction and employee loyalty.

Additionally, the costs of internal recruitment are significantly lower, and of course, you counteract the risk of employing someone who might not be as good as they say they are. Whereas with an internal hire, you already have a good idea of their performance and capabilities.

Continuing to employ from abroad

Overseas workers are incredibly valuable. Bringing with them an array of skills and knowledge, UK employers have often relied on talent from abroad to fill to in critical gaps in talent. Once the EU divorce has been finalised, UK employers need to be mindful of the legal obligations that come with recruiting from abroad, including a right to work check. For any potential overseas candidate, an offer of employment should be made conditional on the individual’s eligibility to work in the UK. This can be satisfied by ensuring the individual has obtained the specific documents as specified by the Home Office.

The recruitment landscape looks set to shift quickly in the near future, but this doesn’t necessarily pose a negative threat to businesses. Rather, as with Brexit, it is dependent on the reaction, approach and proactivity of HR and business leaders when it comes to the hiring process that will affect the level of impact. By aligning your recruitment strategy to satisfy new expectations and trends, there is no reason business cannot continue to prosper in light of the Brexit deadline.


Topics: Uncategorized

Paula Devine

Written by Paula Devine

Paula is Head of Membership and Global Services at Bedfordshire Chamber of Commerce.

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