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How SMEs can overcome talent challenges

Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are facing a challenge that leaves many of them feeling stuck: a lack of the appropriate skills to drive their business forwards.

Eighty-one per cent of SMEs struggle to find new recruits with the right type and level of skills, according to research commissioned by coworking company The Brew by24. The study of 1,000 business professionals found that 36 per cent of those struggling to find skilled staff feel a lack of learning or progression opportunities is a major cause, with 30 per cent blaming the work culture, including inadequate social scene or work-life balance.

It also seems SMEs aren’t helping themselves: most feel the recruitment process discriminates against older workers, despite the benefits they bring to an organisation. With the same research also finding that 35 per cent of SMEs predicting problems with recruiting the talent they need in the future, and a further 13 per cent saying they’re already struggling, this is a worrying situation.

So how can SMEs attract and retain talent when their competitors have deeper pockets? Here are some areas SMEs should look at to improve the recruitment and retention of the skills they need:

The pay/benefits balance

Paying more may seem like a non-starter, but consider the second, unspoken part of that equation. People leave for more money because what they’re being paid isn’t enough for the demands of the job. Indeed, 32 per cent of SMEs surveyed by The Brew said that their organisation’s skills shortages are down to ‘modest’ starting salaries

A quarter of companies surveyed by MetLife UK acknowledge they cannot compete with the salaries available at bigger companies. But 27 per cent also said the benefits they offer are not as strong as those at larger firms.

But bumping up what you pay while improving other aspects of the work can change the balance. Better benefits, a less stressful environment or better work-life balance can create an environment that competes with jobs at larger firms offering more money but also a life of increased stress, long nights and missed weekends.

And SMEs seem to be adopting this approach: more than half (53 per cent) of UK SMEs surveyed by MetLife UK are either implementing benefits or increasing the benefits they offer in an attempt to keep staff.

Opportunity to learn new skills

Larger companies have internal training and development schemes and will often pay for external training. It’s important for any professional to stay current and learn the skills to deal with new challenges. An SME should do its best to help staff continue to learn. Mentoring staff can help, but finding some budget for external training and certifications is a good idea.

Upward mobility

Providing upward mobility in a small firm is difficult. There are only so many slots available and only one head of department. However, it doesn’t mean an SME need be a career dead end. Putting seasoned staff in charge of projects or specialised teams, and rewarding their performance in those roles, can provide staff room to grow, extending their stay with the company.

Switching industries

Most professionals like a challenge. That’s part of what attracts them to roles in the first place. If your business is a leader in its field or offers an opportunity to take on new challenges, consider making that part of your pitch to new hires.

Like all companies, SMEs must be creative to attract and retain talent. Competing against larger companies adds an extra challenge. Creativity and the personal touch, something SMEs are often known for, can help. Consider why people may consider leaving their current job and focus on their pain points. Relieving stress and providing opportunities within the organisation can make the difference.

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How SMEs can overcome talent challenges
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