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How SMEs can compete for talent

By Jo Whittle
15 January 2018

Chartered accountants Haines Watts presents a series of articles based on its blogs. It offers analysis, reviews and comments and welcomes your feedback at

Talking to clients in recent months, it’s clear that attracting and recruiting talent remains a tough challenge for SMEs, writes Jane Wills, partner, Haines Watts. This is particularly acute in the Thames Valley where they must compete with the employee benefits offered by large corporates, as well as the pull of London.

But, SMEs are renowned for being adaptable and experimental and these are qualities that can be used to good effect when competing for talent. How? Below are some of the innovative approaches business owners are taking.

• Technical skills can be trained – the right attitude less so. Focusing on recruits who are willing to work hard and take responsibility rather than those who have the perfect technical skills set, can provide access to a raft of new candidates.

• It’s a reality that you can’t always offer the best pay or benefits but SMEs are well placed to appeal to recruits in other ways. Millennials, for example, are far more interested in being recognised for their ideas, and having the opportunity to contribute meaningfully to the business. Creating an environment in which this generation has a say and stake is smart.

• Nothing stimulates productivity and loyalty like giving employees a stake in the business. Employee Share Ownership Schemes incentivise talent to see their job as a long-term investment while offering a valuable tax incentive.

• Engaging experienced hires looking to change careers or get back into full-time work can prove very successful. Offering these employees flexible working is a strategy I see operate exceptionally well for SMEs.

• Providing training is a great way to attract young talent – particularly school leavers opting not to pursue further education but who have the desire to ‘learn while they earn’.


Don’t be shy. Be clear about your employer proposition and use your website, social media and word of mouth to talk about your business and why it’s a great place to work.

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