Nearly three quarters of businesses face recruiting difficulties

Kirstie Pickering speaks to small businesses for their take on recent findings that nearly 75% of SMEs have struggled to hire in the past year.

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The British Chamber of Commerce (BCC) has found that 73% of firms attempting to recruit faced difficulties in Q3, according to its quarterly recruitment report.

The survey of nearly 5,000 UK companies found that the hospitality sector continues to suffer the most, with 79% reporting hiring challenges in Q3. This is closely followed by both construction and manufacturing at 78%, and 72% of retail businesses said they had experienced recruitment issues.  

Of the hospitality businesses reporting problems, 58% faced difficulties in finding semi or unskilled workers, and 41% said they struggled to hire skilled manual or technical staff. 

In the construction and engineering sector, 78% faced problems getting skilled manual or technical workers, but just 21% said the same for semi or unskilled hiring.  

As businesses continue to face an abundance of economic hurdles, most are still reporting no increase to investment in workplace training – only 27% reported an increase in staff training and 13% reported a drop in spending for this.

Labour costs were cited by 66% of companies as a source of cost pressure, and 59% say they’re concerned about energy costs.  

Hiring for SMEs

So, how are the UK’s small businesses finding the hiring landscape at present? The results are mixed.

We work in a field that’s both in demand and on trend,” Natalie Sherman, founder and director of Wiltshire-based communications agency Naturally Social, told Startups. “Combine that with being a small business in a rural location unable to meet soaring salary costs or offer ‘Google-esque’ office space, and we’re really struggling to find experienced professionals to fill the roles we have. 

“We hired early-stage career talent during and after the pandemic but they moved on quickly – too quickly. It can be exhausting!”

But the hiring process has proved successful in Q3 for MattressTek, a Lancashire-based small business that produces machinery for the mattress industry. The business has hired three new members of staff in the past month and also took on four employees from a supplier that was closing.

“We have previously struggled to attract and retain labourers who joined us due to the range of tasks required to be undertaken, but the current hire seems to be enjoying them and has cemented himself into the team,” says Shaun Peel, technical director at MattressTek. 

“We recruited various design engineers who agreed to start, and then accepted a pay rise from the company where they were. We get calls from agencies all the time trying to put people forward or offering to find people to match the requirements, but we have been conscious of the costs and use the likes of Indeed instead.”

Better times ahead?

Geoff Newman, founder of recruitment advertising company Starget, says while many small businesses are struggling to recruit, the situation is improving. Those who are successfully recruiting are doing so by offering increased salaries and advertising their jobs on multiple sites, he says.

“From a very slow start in July and August, there has been an uptick in applications in September, increasing 21% year-on-year,” Newman told Startups. “More jobseekers have entered the market having recently passed their exams, or because people are feeling the pinch so they need additional income.

“The biggest drop in recruitment is hospitality and catering, having seen a 40% year-on-year decrease in September in applications. 

“After the upheaval of COVID-19, things are beginning to normalise, falling back from an all-time high stimulated when the economy reopened after the pandemic. Whilst there are headwinds in the economy denting some company’s confidence to hire, the sentiment appears largely “business as usual”.”

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Mid shot of Kirstie Pickering freelance journalist.
Kirstie Pickering - business journalist

Kirstie is a freelance journalist writing in the tech, startup and business spaces for publications including Sifted, TNW, UKTN, The Business Magazine and Maddyness UK. She also works closely with agencies such as CEW Communications to develop content for their startup and scaleup clients.

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