The recruitment crisis for small businesses

There is a recruitment crisis for small businesses in the UK today. This recruitment crisis is making it more difficult for small businesses to attract good staff – and to keep them. The number of people employed is at a 10-year-high while I’m writing this (March 2016), and the number of unfilled job vacancies is currently higher than ever before.

You’re competing with everyone else

Compared with just a couple of years ago, it has become much more difficult to find good staff. Even if you want to take on somebody for a traineeship or a very junior position, you’re competing with all the other employers out there. Good quality candidates are difficult to find, and this is even more difficult if you’re looking for highly skilled staff who are going to really make a difference to your business.

And it’s not about the money

The statistics tell us that wages have not particularly increased. The people you want to recruit have other things on their mind besides money. Good employees have become much fussier about the kinds of companies that they work for. They’re interested in their own security, and they are also interested in the kind of work that they’re going to be doing, what training they can get, and what the job will lead to in the long-term. And this doesn’t mean the traditional idea of having a career ladder and progression within your company; it means what will they be able to move on to in other people’s companies.

How to deal with this recruitment crisis for small businesses

Like almost everything else that you do business, this is about competition. You’re competing with all the other companies your potential employees might work for.

And, like competing with other companies to get the sale, in this game, you also have to do some great marketing – this time when recruiting. You need to show that yours’ is the best possible company to come to work for, and this needs some thought to make sure that you can attract the best people.

Here are some things to think about to stay ahead of the recruitment crisis:


Have a look around at job adverts across the UK, and in your particular area, and see what other people are paying for similar roles. I’ve seen a lot of people recently offer salaries based on what would have been acceptable a couple of years ago or the very basic level. Sometimes, of course, you can’t afford to pay top-notch – you just don’t have the budget. If your budget is a lot less than what other people are paying, you might have to think again and offer a salary range or a profit-related top-up.

The work itself

Most companies just say that they want an “administrator”, “marketing assistant” or whatever the job is. In the same way that you need to market your services by selling “the sizzle not the steak”, you need to market your vacancies by telling people what kind of work they will be doing, and why it’s important to your company.

If you talk about needing a marketing assistant because your company is expanding rapidly, has great plans for the future and you need somebody to help you to communicate with your customers, that sounds a lot more exciting than “do social media for us”.

What your company is about and what it means

Particularly for young people, this has become increasingly important. People want work which is meaningful; which makes a difference in the world. Of course, this is easier if you’re a charity helping people in developing countries to get their sight back, than if you’re a digital marketing agency, or a factory making shoes. But if you look a little deeper into the philosophy of the reason why your company exists, I bet there is more to it for you than just making money. You need to be able to get this across in your job adverts.

What it’s like working there

One of the main factors in why people go to work, after the need to earn money, is that they get to interact with other people and have fun. After all, work is where we meet most of our friends and where we spent most of our time.

So you need to be able to communicate what it’s like to work at your company – maybe with a photo of the team, or a blog post from another recent employee, talking about their work day.

Extra employee benefits

You might not be able to afford the best salary in the world, but there are some extra benefits that you can give to staff that don’t cost a fortune. And sometimes these things can say something about your culture and what is important within your company.

I’m not thinking about the traditional fancy benefits like pension contributions or gym memberships, but this might be an opportunity to introduce things which make your company stand out, attract new employees, and help you retain the people you’ve already got.

Have a think about what these ideas say about an employer:

  1. Free healthy snacks in the office and each employee gets the vote each month as to what the budget should be spent on.
  2. The opportunity to work from home, at least part of the time.
  3. An allowance to spend on an ergonomic home office.
  4. Secure cycle storage.
  5. An interest-free loan scheme for a public transport season-ticket.

Don’t take good staff for granted

In this recruitment crisis for small businesses, you need to make sure that you’re ahead of the game, otherwise, your competitors will be picking up all the good people, and you’re sure to lose out.