When it comes to recruitment, these SMEs are also pushing back plans to increase their total number of employees in the next 12 months and a growing number concede they will not be growing headcount in the next year. This is up from 36 per cent to 43 per cent in the last quarter.

As and when these businesses do ramp-up recruitment, recent industry figures suggest there may be tougher times ahead. ONS reports show that net migration in the UK has fallen to the lowest level in three years; down to 246,000 from 327,000 in the last year. Combine this with a workforce deficit likely to emerge over the next seven years – a result of 14 million employees retiring but just seven million people of working age entering the market – and the odds are stacked against talent hungry SMEs.

Roger Martin-Fagg, Vistage economist in residence comments, ‘There is no doubt in my mind that SMEs will face one of the toughest recruitment challenges they’ve ever encountered in the months ahead. I suspect around 750,000 disillusioned workers will be moving to other parts of Europe to seek a more stable economy. This means the fight for the cream of the crop will be rife for UK businesses. We will quickly see that many of the people choosing to flee the UK for ‘pastures green’ are the lifeblood of vital industries. These combined factors means automation is crucial for business survival.’

Already 39 per cent of SME leaders admit that it’s far more difficult to hire top talent today than it was a year ago. In response, 61 per cent have resorted to using social media channels to recruit and more than half (55 per cent) are hiking salaries to lure them in. As to what employers are looking for, four out of ten rank social skills as the number one attribute followed by management skills such as delegation and communications (37 per cent).

Staff retention is paramount

As result of these recruitment challenges, SME leaders are more aware than ever of the need to look after existing staff, with 66 per cent upping their game on training, 58 per cent increasing salaries and 55 per cent bolstering benefits packages. When it comes to business strategies for talent management, however, SMEs concede there is room for improvement:

· Almost half (49 per cent) do not monitor market or competitor packages

· 38 per cent say they do not have an effective process in place to continually attract the best talent

· 29 per cent fall down on succession planning for key positions and critical players

· 17 per cent do not effectively align their talent and business strategy

· A further 17 per cent do not identify current and future skills gaps effectively

Geoff Lawrence, director Vistage UK comments, ‘There are certainly interesting times ahead for UK SMEs, but for many it’s about shifting the business strategy in order to cope with the increased uncertainly of Brexit. With many of those surveyed still in ‘ScaleUp’, it seems leaders remain optimistic that uncertainty won’t douse their flames of growth.’

Further reading on Brexit

Does your business turn over between £50,000 and £500,000? If so, you are eligible for the new Small Business Grants initiative from SmallBusiness.co.uk. We’re giving away £5,000 every month in a free-to-enter competition. Apply now by clicking here. Good luck!

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