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Are you struggling to plug the SME skills gap?

Struggling to plug the SME skills gap? Here’s why.

Plugging the SME skills gap

Sales capability has been identified as one of the key skills absent or lacking in today’s small to medium-sized businesses and yet, according to a report by Albion Ventures, 36% of SMEs are reporting a tough time hiring the necessary talent to bolster growth. With economic recovery relying on a thriving SME community, how can the existing skills gap be plugged?

Don’t blame it on ‘Gen Y’

Some may cite the need for enhanced communication skills of young people coming out of education, blame it on the ‘Gen Y’ factor, the recruitment agency or the perhaps the shortage in bank lending ... anything but their own failure to give the necessary forethought to the hiring process.

There are indeed calls for additional education, investment and time to be spent to help SMEs employ skilled staff but, for the purpose of this post, I’d like to invite you to focus on how you, the employer, can take action, boost your credibility and desirability amongst high-potential employees before the job spec is drafted and encourage talented job seekers to join you ... and then stay.

Clarity in business breeds success

SMEs that become crystal clear about their objectives from the outset will save considerable fall out later. Deborah Bishop, a Human Resources Professional and Director of Work Tree comments:  “I don’t think any business is too small to start thinking about their values and their culture. Clarity at the start will help a business recruit and grow with a coherent strategy.”

And I agree. To my mind, clarity in business breeds success. When you know where you want to be, you can clearly identify what the ‘right person’ might look like and you become more sensitive to opportunities, personalities and ideas that can help you to reach it. Plus, when your vision is clearly communicated, not only will this help you attract the right kind of talent to your business, but it will also empower your new hires to act and offer solutions in support of your vision once they are on board. If people don’t know what goal you have set out to accomplish, they will substitute their own agenda in its place!

Neville Pritchard, Chairman of People in Flow Ltd agrees: “I’m convinced that time spent understanding the type of person that the role requires, the level of thinking, the potential the individual has and the value we expect them to contribute is vitally identified ahead of starting the recruitment process. This also enables the quicker integration and contribution of the new hire and drives the engagement considerations from both the employer and employee perspective.”

Make life better for employees

Trading for Good celebrates and supports those companies working to improve the lives of their employees and recognises the importance and significance of employee engagement in driving wellbeing, productivity, efficiency and effectiveness.  But engagement enhancing considerations shouldn’t just be reserved for induction programmes and beyond. Thinking within the framework of employee engagement can also contribute to the development of a robust recruitment strategy from the outset.

As Deborah Bishop suggests:  “With employee engagement so important for the success of the business I also think it’s important to consider whether you think anyone will want to do the job you have put together and whether they will stay in it. I have seen businesses cobble together a mixture of tasks they are desperate to be completed, but this is not necessarily an attractive job to present to the market, nor is it a strategic way to build your organisation’s structure and for those SMEs who hope to grow, mistakes with your structure can be difficult and costly to unpick later.”

“Costly” indeed! A new report carried out by Oxford Economics reveals that replacing members of staff incurs significant costs for their employers: £30,614 per employee. This is an eye-watering figure in its own right but particularly soul-destroying when also considered in the context of a SMEs already limited marketing budget. 

Has the importance of people fallen off the radar?

SME management can be thoroughly relentless. Leaders describe craving additional clarity, being pulled in every possible direction, doing many jobs but no one job to the very best of their ability and longing to cut through the endless distractions so they can focus where they will have the greatest impact. So with 36% reporting a tough time finding the necessary talent and UK organisations losing up to £2 billion a year in employee productivity due to inefficient induction processes, has thinking within the framework of employee engagement fallen off the radar amidst the chaos and complexity of SME leadership?

DR Jill Miller, Research Advisor at CIPD, focuses on great people management and development in SMEs. She has had the pleasure of researching and interviewing a wide range of SMEs for a new project to be launched in May and paints an encouraging outlook for employees working within small to medium-sized businesses. She shares: “Many of them (employers) are doing fantastic things to get the talent they'll need as they continue to grow and expand as a business, with a clear mantra that if they are good enough for us to hire them, then we should invest in them and get the best from them.”

For those Trading for Good members seeking ways to overcome the challenges associated with hiring the right talent for your business, I invite you to park any preconceived ideas about the availability of suitable candidates for now and focus instead on your own values, culture and objectives before asking yourself the following questions posed by Dr Jill Miller.  

  1. Does the recruitment process consider the long-term ambitions of the applicant?
  2. What can you offer them, especially after the manic, exciting start-up phase where things become a bit more formal?
  3. What will encourage people to stay?

By taking steps now to achieve some clarity and define your vision, you’ll become far more attractive to those with the skill set your business currently lacks.

 _ _ _ _

Lisa Barber

Lisa is a SME Sales and Marketing Mentor and founded Roots and Wings in June 2013. The company supports SME sales and marketing leaders to cut through the ‘noise’ and focus their time and energy where they will have the greatest impact. Lisa has Board level credentials within one of Hampshire’s most acclaimed SMEs, is a CMI-accredited Coach and Mentor and an ambassador for female sales and marketing leaders within small to medium-sized businesses.



Lisa Barber
About the Author

Lisa Barber

Lisa is a SME Sales and Marketing Mentor and founded Roots and Wings in June 2013.

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