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Attracting and retaining staff is the top challenge for business owners in a tightening labour market.

For owners of small and medium enterprises (SMEs), the recruitment quest has never been tougher.

A ‘perfect storm’ of factors – including record-low unemployment, Brexit and the shifting expectations of millennials (those aged roughly between 22 and 36) – means employers are having to work harder and smarter to attract staff.

The recruitment market as a whole has changed significantly in the last year. Forty per cent of employers say they’ve found it harder to fill vacancies than they did last year and 45% – the highest in 12 years – can’t find the skills they need.

With job-seeker levels at their lowest in many years, roles and companies need to be attractive to tempt movers. Brexit has been blamed for a 95% decline in the number of EU-born workers moving to the UK, which has impacted the flow of the market. Candidates also increasingly want an employer who can offer progression, agile working and new technology.

Millennial effect

There’s a huge shift in what millennials look for in an employer. They want to see they can make an impact and feel like they’re developing their skills. They also look for employers who mirror their values – often including social and environmental impacts.

All of this has a huge effect on SMEs, as many can’t accommodate these factors as quickly or as easily as larger organisations.

How can small and medium business owners compete? Selling your company and the job is vital. Many employers forget to do this, but it really is key for you to spell out everything that’s great about your company and what’s on offer to any potential employee.

Ensure the candidate’s initial experience of your company is professional, smooth, fast and friendly throughout – and plan ahead. Try to recruit before you need to and before it hurts your business.

Nurturing talent

Developing key employees is an essential component of any retention strategy. Offering agile working, progression, training, competitive rewards and increased benefits packages is part of this.

Look at being a forward-thinking employer. People want to see an employer showing modern ways of thinking and also offering new technologies.

It’s expected that, by 2030, we’ll have a talent shortage of 85 million globally – so it’s really important for employers to move with the changes now and ensure they don’t get left behind. That will help them continue to attract and retain the best people.

It really is key for you to spell out everything that’s great about your company.

Talent-hunting technique

In order to dodge employer pitfalls, make sure your recruitment strategy:

  1.  Focuses on securing the skills as well as finding them.
  2. Avoids a volume approach that misses the nuggets.
  3. Doesn’t assume that candidates understand what makes you special.
  4. Reflects you and your business.
  5. Generates interest at the start rather than the end of the process.

The effects of Brexit on recruitment (A case study)

An account by Surrey-based homecare agency with around 100 staff.

In high-demand sectors such as health and social care, skills shortages are worsening.

The uncertainty created by Brexit and the falling value of the pound compared with the euro has created recruitment issues over the last couple of years.

Our experience is that some of the most valuable collaborators and coworkers come primarily from Eastern Europe. They are usually qualified, with a background in nursing or medical services – but we’ve seen this workforce dramatically shrink. With the insecurity created by Brexit, they can’t commit to moving to another country for five, seven or ten years – and they don’t know if they’ll be welcome.

The company is responding by reviewing its recruitment offer. We’ve raised the salaries we pay and we’re actively looking at our whole package of incentives in an effort to attract and retain staff.

Read more like this

How to build an employer brand to attract and retain talent

6 ways for improving staff retention

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