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UK SMEs dogged by widening skills gap

The UK is suffering from an ever-widening skills gap, leaving small businesses struggling to find and retain suitable candidates. Previous Dukes blogs have noted that this shortage could be a significant stumbling block for SMEs looking to boost growth and increase competitiveness; how has the situation developed since our last report?

Lack of expertise

A recent study by Close Brothers, a prominent financial services group, found that 31% of SMEs felt their workers didn't have the skills necessary to meet the requirements of the business, while a similar Lloyds Commercial Banking report put the figure closer to 61%.

Our previous article reported on the Federation of Small Businesses' suggestion that SMEs should make use of vocational training programmes, such as apprenticeships, to address the gap. However, the Chief Executive of Close Brothers' Banking Division, Stephen Hodges, has since commented that: "despite a clear need for more skilled workers, hiring apprentices to address this simply isn't possible for the majority of companies".

Apprenticeships are difficult to create due to cost, red tape and time constraints. Furthermore, a large number of baby boomers expected to retire over the next two to five years, further exacerbating the current problem. Research from recruitment firm Robert Half UK indicates that 77% of finance directors fear loss of skilled older workers will have a negative impact on their businesses.

The long term forecast

Growth prospects for SMEs are already hampered by macroeconomic issues such as the possibility of a UK 'Brexit' and uncertainty around the issue of interest rate rises. All of these factors negatively affect small businesses' ability to devote cash to specialist recruitment or in-house apprenticeship programmes. However, SME and mid-market banking managing director David Oldfield says that investing in workforce skills should be a top priority, and that it's "crucial businesses do everything they can to develop skills across their workforces".

Small business owners should look to address the skill gap by freeing up cash for focused recruitment drives or apprenticeships. Ethical Enforcement Agents such as Dukes Bailiffs can help SMEs to achieve this goal by collecting supplier debts sensitively and efficiently. If you're in business and are desperately trying to bridge the skills gap, give us a call today and find out how we could help.

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