Just a third (35%) of young people leaving education in 2018 want to work for an SME (small and medium-sized business)

Those leaving education and looking for work may be missing out on potential employment opportunities simply by failing to consider Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and the advantages they offer, new research from Santander UK reveals.

Just a third (35%) of Generation Z and Millennials1 leaving full time education, whether that be school, college or university, say they wish to work for an SME. An even smaller proportion, just one in six (18%), want to work for a start-up or micro business. Instead, the most popular career aspirations for Generation Z and Millennials are to work for a large firm (51%), the public sector (51%) or a global multinational (49%).

The main reason Generation Z and Millennials say they would not want to work for an SME is because of a perceived lack of job security (56%). There is also the belief that SMEs offer a lower salary (46%) and fewer opportunities for progression than large companies (33%).

Yet by choosing to ignore SMEs, young people are missing out on a vast number of opportunities, given that over 99% of businesses are SMEs2. The majority (70%) of SMEs3 are actively recruiting for entry level roles, whether that be graduates (43%), further education leavers (36%) or school leavers (35%).

Sue Douthwaite, Managing Director of Santander Business, said:

“SMEs are the backbone of the UK economy, making up the overwhelming majority of private sector businesses. While there are fantastic opportunities working for large companies or the public sector, anyone about to leave education should not discount the huge range of exciting career opportunities offered by the nation’s SMEs. SMEs offer huge opportunities for growth and many are at the forefront of British innovation and exports.”

Graduate recruitment in particular is still at the top of the SME hiring agenda, with nearly a third (30%) of businesses having hired a graduate in the last 12 months and a similar number (32%) planning to do so in the next 12 months.

To help connect graduates with SMEs, Santander runs a UK-wide Universities SME Internship Programme which matches up SMEs with interns at one of its 84 partner universities. SMEs can contact one of Santander’s partner Universities to find an intern who matches the needs of their business and are eager to begin their new career. Santander will then contribute funding of up to £1,500 to each SME per intern towards a placement of 1-10 weeks.

Lack of interest among young people in SME careers may, in part, be due to lack of exposure to them. SMEs tend to be less visible at careers fairs, with a third (33%) admitting that they do not engage directly with education providers, so graduates and school leavers may need to be more proactive in reaching out to them in comparison to the big businesses and public sector which often exhibit at careers events.

Matt Hutnell, ‎Director of Santander Universities UK, commented:

“SMEs may not be as visible in education institutions as larger businesses or the public sector as they may not have the same level of resources or just historically haven’t worked as closely with schools and universities. An internship is a fantastic way to get to know a business so anyone who isn’t sure what they would like to do, or who is and would just like some experience, should consider speaking to the careers department at their school, college and university and finding out what opportunities there are.”





Rebecca joined the HRreview editorial team in January 2016. After graduating from the University of Sheffield Hallam in 2013 with a BA in English Literature, Rebecca has spent five years working in print and online journalism in Manchester and London. In the past she has been part of the editorial teams at Sleeper and Dezeen and has founded her own arts collective.