By Dr Jill Miller, Research Adviser, CIPD

Recruiting people with exactly the right skills is a significant challenge, especially in a specialist sector. In our latest research with SMEs we have seen how savvy small businesses are taking matters into their own hands, developing their own young talent to help fill the skills gap.

With high youth unemployment, small businesses are realising the potential of this under-tapped talent pool. Many SME owners see this pool of fresh, enthusiastic and relatively inexperienced young people as a great opportunity to develop their talent pipeline, teaching them the skills the business needs for long-term growth. Rather than just hiring graduates or candidates from other companies, these SMEs are also taking on young people straight from school – developing them into what their business requires both technically and culturally and providing them with transferable skills for the future.

One such example is the Probrand Group. This specialist supplier of computer products has struggled to recruit the niche skills it needs. In response it has created its own Youth Training Programme, hiring a number of apprentices and young people straight from school. Alongside more technical job-related training, Probrand teaches young people softer life skills that the school curriculum doesn’t cover. Trainees can request, for example, a personal finance management course designed to help them plan their finances, question their spending habits and plan ahead using a spreadsheet. This is all intended to help them grow as people and take responsibility in the workplace. The benefit for Probrand is having access to fresh and innovative perspectives, which it believes will help it prosper and grow in the future.

Fellow tech company UKFast, a managed hosting provider, has also found it hard to hire the niche skills it needs. It has responded by offering young people the opportunity to ‘earn while they learn’. The UKFast “academy” offers a range of work shadowing, on the job training and a structured curriculum of academic learning to help young people continue their A-Level studies after school. The company believes that supporting young people in the business will help it achieve its long-term goals and that investing the right time and resource in developing young talent can help a business generate ‘phenomenal’ outputs.

For IMarEST, the international professional body for marine workers, training up young people is less about plugging a skills gap and more about reflecting its industry and building a future talent pipeline. The organisation recently hired its first graduate - who will spend a few years working across four different functions including marketing, business development and operations. IMarEST felt that a graduate would help its Executive team gain different perspectives and wanted to acknowledge a long tradition of hiring and training young cadets into engineers in the profession it represents. The organisation is keen to represent people of all ages, so it has also hired office apprentices and hopes to continue recruiting new talent and skills in the future.

There is no denying that young people can deliver tremendous benefits to SMEs, from bringing fresh ideas to securing future talent and reflecting the diversity of the industry in which they operate. However, companies need to be aware that growing your own talent isn’t a quick fix solution. It takes time, commitment and careful planning and organisation to ensure that young recruits are provided with a structured learning programme that helps make the most of the talent they bring.

To find out more about these companies and how to grow your own talent, take a look at my latest research, ‘Recruiting and developing talented people for SME growth’ here. You may also be interested in finding out more about our Learning to Work Campaign which offers guidance on how to set up apprenticeship schemes, work experience and placements.