Talent attraction is a huge challenge for SMEs in the South West. The region is full of ambitious, growing businesses that need the right people to serve customers and reach the next stage of growth.

But getting the right people on board can be difficult. The labour market isn’t particularly fluid (The South West has the highest employment rate in the country at 80.1%). There are geographical challenges. And young people tend to leave, with only 12% of university students staying after graduation.

We surveyed Managing Directors of South West SMEs about the challenges they face and the lessons they’ve learned . Based on that research, we’ve extracted these 4 actionable steps for attracting top talent.

1. Build your employer brand

While SMEs don’t necessarily have the budgets to create nationally-recognised employer brands, if you’re targeted and strategic, you can establish yourself as a ‘go to’ employer in your field.

  • In your online marketing, highlight what makes your business great, in terms of culture, progression, growth stage and benefits
  • Emphasise the benefits of working for an ambitious SME – like the 360-degree exposure to the business, quicker progression, access to senior management and less red tape, for example
  • Make sure your social media accounts go beyond advertising vacancies, ensuring they reflect your brand, values and culture
  • Highlight existing employee achievements and show what you want staff to be like in terms of education, experience and attributes
  • Share news and trends, demonstrating you’re at the forefront of your industry
  • Position the MD/CEO to contribute to social media, so prospective candidates get to know the leadership style

These are all quick wins that will make you more attractive as an employer.

2. Take a structured approach to cultivating company culture

The Federation of Small Businesses summed it up nicely: ‘Healthier, happier people make for a more motivated, loyal and productive workforce.’ And a positive company culture plays a key role in fostering employee wellbeing and engagement.

39% of employees say flexible working is very important to them, with a further 30% saying it’s essential. Not only does flexible working have mental health benefits, but it also boosts productivity. Other opportunities like mentoring and development (as well as traditional benefits like discounts and reward schemes) are also essential – career progression is what keeps 69% of millennials engaged at work, for example.

Almost 80% of a pool of the most successful SME employers in the South West offer part-time opportunities, whilst 63% offer remote working and another 73% offer a flexible approach to school drop-offs, appointments and general flexibility around personal circumstances*.

These elements need to be embedded in the company culture – and that needs to be driven from the top.

3. Review the technology you use

These days, every job is digital in some way, so it’s worth considering the role technology plays in hiring and retention. 53% of millennial workers judge their employer based on their technology, favouring those using the same cutting-edge technology they do.

Only 52% of SMEs surveyed in the South West have made plans to future proof and invest in rapidly emerging digital trends*, but technology is affecting candidate decision-making processes, so it’s something to be aware of. Whether it’s investing in productivity-boosting technology, enabling flexible working or training staff on new tools – putting your business at the cutting edge will pay dividends on the talent front (as well as contribute to better customer experiences)*.

4. Build a solid recruitment strategy

A bad hire on a £42,000 salary can cost you £132,015 to rectify, according to the Recruitment and Employment Confederation. That’s more than 3 times the salary – so it’s worth building a solid recruitment strategy.

Your recruitment strategy should be based on a full analysis of the organisation’s skills gaps and account for ways to upskill your current workforce. After all, the talent market is evolving, and previously defined roles aren’t always the best way to attract what you need for the future. For instance, communication (56%), leadership (37%) and high emotional intelligence (33%) are the top 3 soft skills most important for hiring right now*, but how do you measure and account for this with consistency?

It’s therefore worth investing in the right support. This includes staff training as well as external partners who act as a brand ambassador and hone in on hard-to-find talent. That way you can focus your recruitment efforts, reduce the time and costs associated with hiring – and significantly increase the chance of getting the right fit the first time.

*data taken from King Recruit’s latest survey on “Future Talent Today”

Want to know more about what MDs in the South West think about the challenges facing the region? Download our latest guide