The 600m Jobs Challenge: Can SMEs Fill The Void?

Millions of jobs will have to be created in coming years, partly to offset the impact of automation. Can small businesses step up?

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Millions of jobs will have to be created in coming years, partly to offset the impact of automation. Can small businesses step up?


The 600m Jobs Challenge: Can SMEs Fill The Void?

Millions of jobs will have to be created in coming years, partly to offset the impact of automation. Can small businesses step up?

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The UN recently held the first ever International Day for micro-, small, and medium-sized enterprises to recognise the importance of these businesses in achieving global development goals.

It’s encouraging to see that businesses of this size are receiving the recognition they deserve as engines for economic growth.

A key area of global development is job creation, and the World Bank claims that 600 million new jobs are needed over the next 15 years to absorb burgeoning population growth and the potential loss of jobs due to advances in automation.

The International Council for Small Businesses has highlighted the pivotal role these enterprises will play in filling the jobs gap, but to what extent are real UK small business owners prepared for this global challenge?

Small and micro businesses are responsible for a significant proportion of global economic activity, and will continue to play a crucial role in job creation. In the UK alone, 96% of businesses are micro (0-9 employees), and account for 32% of employment and 20% of total private sector turnover.

But while these enterprises are the bedrock of economic development, our experience of working with millions of small and micro businesses globally tells us that they face some unique barriers to recruitment. Here is my advice for overcoming these hurdles:

Mind the skills gap

Regular headlines draw attention to the struggles small businesses face in recruiting the right employees, with recent research from Albion Ventures showing that the skills gap is the top concern for small businesses. But we’re hearing a more nuanced picture from our customers

There’s no denying that certain businesses are susceptible to skills shortages, particularly those operating in construction or high-tech industries. But one customer recently shared with me how she believes there are many under-utilised and highly skilled employees that more small businesses could tap into.

A perfect example of this are large numbers of parents who left high-flying careers and are unable to return to full-time work. This is a great resource to tap into, as the flexibility they’re looking for can be turned into an advantage if you’re not able to hire anyone full-time.

Remember to also look beyond CVs when expanding your headcount. While previous experience is valuable, the hiring needs of small and micro businesses can be very different to those of larger more structured firms.

Due to the nature of smaller businesses, employees need to be particularly versatile and show willingness to take on varied responsibilities in a close-knit team. Focus on candidates who will rise to this challenge, by hiring for attitude and interpersonal skills first, and then providing training for technical elements of the role.

The big advantage of small size

Without the support of recruiters, a dedicated HR function and a comprehensive benefits package, small and micro businesses can be at a disadvantage compared to their corporate counterparts when it comes to attracting candidates.

While smaller businesses may have to work harder at recruitment, once on board, many employees vouch for the benefits of working for small companies. According to a survey by LinkedIn, UK businesses that employ ten or fewer employees report the highest levels of job satisfaction.

The trick is to leverage your small businesses’ unique qualities to stand out against larger companies.

As well as the wider breadth of responsibilities and greater flexibility that small businesses can offer, one micro business owner told me that a key selling point for her employees is that they feel like they form an integral part of the business’s journey and are making a tangible impact.

Whether you’re developing and launching an innovative new product, or running a business that serves your local community, your employees will be able to clearly see your dream unfolding every step of the way and play an important role in achieving it.

Regularly tell your story on social media to keep potential employees updated on the progress you’re making, any major milestones and how they could become involved.

Encouraging entrepreneurship

The responsibility for job creation should not only lie with business owners, especially as many micro businesses we come across remain sole traders by choice. There’s also a need to encourage more people to start their own successful enterprises.

The UK’s startup rates are already encouraging, but there are still many businesses that don’t survive beyond five years. Running a small business is not for the faint-hearted.

Our survey about the personality traits of small business owners versus full-time employees found that the former were more likely to be passionate about work, have a strong character and be confident – all of which are necessary traits to overcome the early setbacks and challenges.

The good news is that there is a wealth of advice and guidance to support aspiring entrepreneurs and provide the best chance of success. A great place to start is by seeking advice from seasoned business owners.

Successful entrepreneurs will have come up against many of the same roadblocks as those who are just starting out. Many of them are willing to share their learnings through free online resources, seminars and networking events. While there’s a challenging journey ahead, remember that you’re never alone.

Small and micro businesses, and the inspirational people behind them, possess many characteristics that will serve them well as future job creators. We must continue to champion their role in closing the jobs gap, and the lasting impact this will have on our communities and the wider economy.

Simon Braier is head of customer insights at Vistaprint UK

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The 600m Jobs Challenge: Can SMEs Fill The Void?

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