Should SMEs freeze recruitment or invest in the next generation?

The UK’s small and medium businesses are the heartbeat of our economy. Despite the current economic climate, it was encouraging to hear 95% of SMEs citing growth as their number one priority in a recent SAP survey. Clearly, SMEs across the UK are keen to forge forward and grow their businesses, rather than sitting tight and refusing to take risks; but can this mindset be applied to all areas of business?

A key factor in growing a business is finding and hiring the right people – something which small businesses can’t afford to get wrong. Worryingly, recent research by German Industry UK has found that a number of other German firms, including E.ON, BMW and Siemens, feel that Britain’s school leavers are unprepared for work. In fact, the results showed that 73% of managers consider the standard of education among young British job applicants ‘not satisfactory’ – some finding British school leavers incapable of basic tasks such as writing a letter! Let alone more comprehensive skills, like IT.

If large organisations like these are struggling to find suitable employees where does this leave SMEs, who have smaller budgets and less sophisticated strategies for recruiting talent at their disposal?

In light of recent GCSE and A-Level results, I would encourage SMEs to take stock on their talent pool. Rather than feeling reluctant to take the risk of employing individuals who need training and investment to reach their potential, think about the benefits of shaping willing, young employees. Just a couple of weeks ago I wrote about the Santander SME graduate placement scheme, and I really believe it is initiatives like this that can make a real difference for large and small businesses alike, across the UK. The scheme alleviates the pressures SMEs are facing when looking to grow their businesses – providing small and medium enterprises with the funding and confidence they need to take on new and promising talent.

So many young people across Britain are passionate about IT – something we have witnessed at the Young Rewired State Festival which SAP was heavily involved with this year. The event, held in multiple locations throughout the UK just last week, challenged young people to build digital products for mobile and the web and we were blown away by the creativity and enthusiasm of the young people involved. It is clear that innovation and economic growth are directly linked to society’s ability to develop individuals with the skills to succeed – and I really think that businesses across our country can help talented young people do just this.

The results released by the German Industry UK are undoubtedly concerning and SMEs have the right to be cautious when taking on new staff. But there is talent out there just waiting to be nurtured. With government plans to invest in apprenticeships, and development schemes emerging from companies such as Santander, small businesses shouldn’t be afraid of expanding their workforce and developing the talent which clearly exists in the UK.

By John Antunes, Director of SME & Channels at SAP, UK and Ireland