There are two ways to interpret the latest employment data from the Office for National Statistics. Record job vacancies – 1,247,000 in the three months to December 2021 – show that UK businesses are bouncing back from the impact of Covid-19. They also suggest what seems to be an acute talent shortage, highlighting how the pandemic continues to cast a long shadow over our working lives.
SME leaders therefore need to be a lot smarter about attracting and retaining talent and building the skills that will drive their business forward. Here are seven suggestions for shoring up skills gaps and prioritising top talent this year.
The first step is to take stock of the skills you do have, and the ones you think you might need. Today’s digital-first business environment has introduced new demands on small businesses to develop their digital capabilities, but each business has different requirements, and therefore different skills gaps. For some, it’s advanced skills like computer programming and photoshop design, but for others it might be as simple as getting a website set up or even just sharpening up on Excel spreadsheets. Conducting a skills audit will help to identify the existing strengths and weaknesses of both you and your team – which is crucial in identifying how to proceed.
Following an audit, take a forward-looking approach to figure out what the growth potential of any new capabilities will be for the business. If it’s social media marketing, try to establish where your potential customers are online, and which channels you can use to target them. We know from more than 130,000 businesses who accessed Vodafone V-Hub support over the past 12 months that growing a business online and attracting new customers are popular topics – hardly a surprise given the huge potential for growth that these skills bring.
Once you’ve got a good idea of what to focus on and why, it’s then a case of identifying how best to develop those capabilities. The first option is upskilling, both yourself and your team. But it’s clear that, whatever the requirements are, a lot of business owners don’t know where to start. The good news is that there is an abundance of courses and resources available online to kickstart the upskilling journey, both from the government and also from sites like Udemy and our very own V-Hub small business support website. Training doesn’t need to break the bank, either – we launched our business.connected programme alongside Enterprise Nation to provide free skills training to 150,000 SMEs, and there’s still plenty of time to take advantage of courses from the likes of Enterprise Nation, Samsung and Cisco.
In addition to upskilling internally, sometimes it’s worth looking externally for the skills you need. The trick here is to go beyond the usual network you’d rely on and seek our new skills in new places. It’s a big part of why workplace diversity isn’t just the right thing to do from an inclusion standpoint, but also from a business one – you need diversity of perspectives and experiences to become an agile SME that is ready for the future. Perhaps it’s also why our business.connected research found that almost two thirds of SMEs would now prefer to hire a ‘digital native’ with more limited work experience over a ‘digital novice’ with much stronger work experience credentials.
Alongside hiring and training, the battle for talent is also about retaining your SME superstars. An open and collaborative working culture is no longer a ‘nice to have’ but a necessity, particularly for small businesses where everyone relies on each other in a much more direct way. Make sure you’re making time and space for honest conversations with your team – it’s a great way to empower them and the business to grow and succeed.
Post-pandemic hybrid working presents a number of challenges for small businesses and teams need to feel connected, whether in a physical space or virtually. Part of the role of a business owner is ensuring everyone has the right connectivity wherever it is they’re working, so check you’ve got everything in place that you and your team needs – our Complete Connectivity solution for example offers reliable and secure broadband connectivity across sites and with advanced security features to ensure SMEs have everything required to stay connected, secure and in complete control.
Building the right team can be a challenge but putting in the hard work is crucial to helping your business succeed. And when you have the right group of team players in place, it’s important to reward their hard work and help them to feel connected to the achievements of the business. Be sure to celebrate your next big win together as a team – once everyone gets a taste for success, your business will thank you for it.
Looking to boost your digital skills or ask about online security? Head to the V-Hub by Vodafone SME support website to speak with one of our expert advisors. Our V-Hub advisers cover a range of digital topics, from building an online presence, creating strong digital marketing strategies, and managing online security risks. The team are available Monday – Friday, 8am - 6pm
Andrew Stevens is Head of UK Small & Medium Business at Vodafone, and leads a team providing insight, expertise, and SME-focused tech solutions for the UK’s growing network of small and medium businesses.
Available Monday to Friday, 8am-6pm, our friendly team are here to provide guidance and support on the topics that matter to your business.