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During the current period of Brexit uncertainty, 41% of British small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) believe leaving the European Union will be damaging for their business, the equivalent to 2.2 million businesses, according to new research.

One-third of UK SMEs expect Brexit to make it harder to attract and retain great talent, according to the study by Upwork, and this number jumps to 56% for larger businesses with 50-250 employees.

The implications of a post-Brexit talent pool are expected to be far reaching. More than half (51%) of concerned businesses expect to see slow profit growth, whilst 40% are worried their workforce will be less productive.

Nearly one-third (32%) claim it will make it harder for them to compete with international businesses. Moreover, the talent shortage means 16% of all SMEs believe they are at risk of going out of business altogether.

However, despite this concern, only 11% of businesses worried about the impact actually have a plan to minimise the impact of Brexit on their hiring efforts.

Rich Pearson, Upwork senior vice president said: “There is already a well-documented skills gap in the UK, and our research suggests that leaving the EU will make it even harder for SMEs to find the talent they need to compete effectively.”

Another 39% are currently working on a plan but the majority are adopting a “wait and see” approach with 48% of businesses claiming it’s either too early for them to make a plan or they need to hear more about what Britain’s relationship with the EU will look like after Brexit.

The small number that do have a plan anticipate spending on average more than £100,000 over the next two years to make up for the shortfall. Nearly one-third (28%) will spend these funds supplementing their workforce with freelance specialists from online platforms.

Many SMEs also plan to train up existing staff (45%) and increase salaries for new employees (39%).

Mr. Pearson added: “Planning for the challenges ahead now by investing in alternative ways to source talent appears to be a winning strategy for SMEs.”