Jayne Hart

Member Article

How North East SMEs can think strategically

• A combination of COVID-19 and the new immigration rules has left some industries well short of their staffing needs. • Employers need to respond to trends such as UK nationals being unwilling to do the jobs that former EU migrants would happily undertake. • Many SMEs have the advantage of agility to help them adapt and survive; adopting a strategic approach to recruitment and retention can help. You do not need to spend long perusing headlines to understand the labour shortages in the North East which some industries face, notably haulage, food supply chain and hospitality. For many businesses it is seriously curtailing operations.

It is easy to see the causal link from big themes like the new immigration rules, which has restricted the movement of EU citizens, and the pandemic which has also restricted movement - as well as make people reprioritise what they are looking for in a job.

Jayne Hart from The HR Dept Newcastle outlines how, by adopting a strategic approach to recruitment and retention, local SMEs can tackle this issue.

Jayne explains: “The severity of the labour crisis in some sectors has taken many by surprise, even if the origins are clear to trace. By adopting a strategic approach, you can address the issue in clearly thought-out stages, and benefit from being proactive.

“Whether you are experiencing the squeeze already, or fear you may be affected in the future, a sensible place to start is with a workforce audit to understand your present situation.

“This does not need to be onerous, but make sure you collect useful information that will inform future decision-making. For instance, profiling employee age will help you understand how many of your workforce are approaching retirement. You could capture the length of service to identify where churn occurs most. Overseas workers are still permitted by a new visa system, so monitoring nationality and skill sets could be useful.

“With your audit complete, turn your attention to creating a priority list of the roles which have the highest impact on your business. Knowing where to expend your effort (and budget) most effectively is a key element of thinking strategically.

“Having completed these initial pieces of work, you should be armed with data and insight to start targeting specific job roles. How can you make these more attractive? Budgets are often tight and, yes, salary is important; but it is not the be-all and end-all.

“Perks are one cost-effective solution. Another area to look at is improving the experience for staff doing your roles. Many of the jobs which were formerly performed by EU migrants have unfavourable working conditions, such as long or unusual hours, hard manual labour, uncertainty and seasonal variation. Think creatively to address such issues. How can you make hard-to-fill vacancies more attractive?

“A key factor, especially for sectors looking to replace EU labour, is to recognise where training and reskilling is required. How can you open up your job roles to a wider domestic pool of workers? By this I mean creating career pathways for the next generation, or for more experienced workers looking to switch sectors.

One element of this could be to use government schemes such as apprenticeship incentives or the Kickstart Scheme. Another idea could be to explore technological solutions like eLearning.

“Local SMEs will want to pursue initiatives appropriate to their own size and budget. With the right rigour and creative touch, they can benefit from taking a strategic approach. Professional advice is available.

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Jayne Hart .

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