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People | Apr 25

Top tips for recruiting and retaining talent for SME growth

People | Apr 25

Senior teaching fellow for employability and professional development at Leeds University Business School Rebecca Padgett provides her top tips for SMEs on how to attract and retain new and diverse talent.

Rebecca Padgett

Rebecca Padgett Senior Teaching Fellow for Employability and Professional Development,  Leeds University Business School

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In an SME your people are your business, but finding the right employees is one of the most difficult and crucial parts of any business – and it’s getting harder. 

The British Chambers of Commerce Quarterly Recruitment Outlook completed last year shows that 79% of businesses are having trouble finding the right people. Since the pandemic, the combination of a high number of people quitting their jobs and booming demand means employers in sectors such as tech, manufacturing and the service industries have met labour shortages. 

This subsequent scramble for talent has seen companies rely on recruitment agencies and make concessions to secure workers, from offering high starting salaries to flexible working set-ups. 

Not only are employers struggling to find quality employees, but also to retain the ones they have. A recent study by Ranstad found that 69% of workers across the UK say they are ready to move to a different employer citing a stressful working environment, lack of appreciation or limited career progression. 

These challenges are exacerbated in the SME community where there are often fewer resources and less brand recognition. 

Given your competitive advantage comes from having and keeping the best talent, here are my top tips for how SME leaders can attract new and diverse talent and then retain them to grow with your company: 

  1. Differentiate yourself: incentives like flexibility, part-time, remote and project work can make up for the higher salaries large organisations generally deliver. 
  2. Develop local education partnerships with universities, colleges, and schools: consider giving opportunities to young talent via apprenticeships, internships, and student placements; nurture the skills your business needs. The most innovative companies have a diverse workforce of various ages, skills, and backgrounds. 
  3. Harness the power of social media: LinkedIn is a great place to share stories about your SME’s culture to boost awareness of the company, attract candidates and help your employees feel proud to work for you. 
  4. Ask your employees what is important to them: you may be surprised by the findings, but if you take the time to fully understand the attitudes and needs of your employees, it will pay off in the long run. 
  5. Create attractive benefits: develop a competitive benefits programme that contains value for all employees, not just some. A younger workforce might value gym and mobile phone benefits, whereas a more mature workforce might prioritise family benefits or additional holidays so they can go on long-haul trips. 
  6. Lead by example: SME leaders are always watched, and the negative impact of poor leadership can travel through a team quickly. People want to know they are respected and appreciated. Positive reinforcement and praise can go a long way. 
  7. Operate with an open-door policy: staff tend to liaise directly with management within SMEs with their ideas. Ensure that you create avenues for them to communicate and implement the thoughts and ideas that they have. 

The SME sector provides a huge and varied range of careers for employees of all ages. Focusing on what differentiates your business for customers and employees will help you stand out in a competitive job market while effectively retaining and developing your existing staff. 

About The Author

Rebecca Padgett

Rebecca Padgett Senior Teaching Fellow for Employability and Professional Development,  Leeds University Business School

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