Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in England are strategically adapting their recruitment approaches to navigate the challenges posed by increased running costs and concerns about staff well-being linked to the cost of living.

The Skills Horizon 2024 Barometer, a comprehensive report on SME skills and recruitment challenges, highlights the resilience and adaptability of SMEs as they focus on investing in their workforces through upskilling and strategic recruitment via technical education.

Addressing Economic Concerns with Tactical Recruitment

Despite the looming challenges, 64 percent of SMEs are deploying low-cost recruitment tactics to invest in talent. The report reveals a shift in focus from immediate concerns to longer-term workforce development strategies. This includes initiatives such as school leaver employment schemes, including apprenticeships, and offering work placements like T Levels. These approaches, adopted by 53 percent and 60 percent of SMEs respectively, aim to shape young talent, upskill existing team members, and address critical skills gaps within businesses.

The report underscores the agility of SMEs in the face of recruitment challenges. Over 70 percent of SMEs are investing in their current workforce, a 4 percent increase from the previous year. Instead of fixating on specific qualifications, employers now prioritize traits such as a good work ethic, teamwork skills, and quick learning abilities, signaling a shift towards adaptability in a fast-paced work environment.

Optimism Amidst Financial Challenges

Despite economic concerns, 86 percent of SMEs are optimistic about revenue growth in 2024, showcasing a 3 percent increase from the previous year. The ambitious targets set by SMEs align with their belief in the agility advantage they possess, allowing them to be more responsive in recruitment and upskilling efforts. The report also indicates a decrease in recession fears, with only 16 percent expressing concerns in 2024 compared to 26 percent in 2023.

Minister for Skills, Apprenticeships, and Higher Education, Robert Halfon, acknowledges the positive forecasts for growth, attributing them to the government’s investment in skills. He highlights the transformative impact of expanded apprenticeships and new T Levels, providing young people with enhanced opportunities for career advancement.

Jane Gratton, Deputy Director – Public Policy at the British Chambers of Commerce, emphasizes the value businesses place on developing their workforce on the job. With a focus on flexible, technical, and vocational training, SMEs aim to create internal talent pipelines, positioning themselves for success as workplace demands evolve.

The release of the Skills Horizon Barometer aligns with National Apprenticeship Week, celebrating apprenticeships and their positive impact on communities, businesses, and the economy. The Skills for Life campaign supports SMEs in understanding technical education training and employment schemes, including Apprenticeships, T Levels, Skills Bootcamps, HTQs, and Multiply numeracy courses.