As the UK Economy has improved over last 12 months, skill shortages have proved even more prevalent. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are the worst hit, as they are often considered by potential employees to offer few benefits for their long-term careers. What can SMEs and smaller tech companies do to combat this shortage and these issues? My companies use, and have used, the following strategies to help attract, retain, and develop our workforce.

  1. Building relationships with local schools and colleges is a great way to find talent right at the source. This is especially relevant considering the recent push on computing in national curriculum. If you want to extend this idea, why not create apprentice and graduate courses that focus on career development? The investment will pay dividends in later years as staff skill levels rise.
  1. Take on university placement students for their year in industry. This enables you to train up potential employees, for a graduate role on completing their degree. They have a year to impress you, and vice versa, so you can engage and cultivate the best talent long before they actually enter the job market.
  1. Look for employees who have shown that they are interested in investing in their own careers, such as those who have actively learnt a new skill or studied a relevant course. When you recruit new staff who are at the beginning of their careers, don’t be scared to move employees between roles for sabbaticals.
  1. Recruit from within where possible, and only use external recruitment selectively where specific skills are required that are not available from within. You should also ensure you employ an HR Manager; as a small company grows from a start-up to SME, the HR responsibilities can become beyond a mere background task, and a full time HR Manager is required.
  1. Recruit for attitude, train for skills. Throughout an employee’s career, skills will need updating, but attitudes can be much more challenging to change. Many skills can be taught but finding candidates with the right cultural fit for a business can be much harder. Recruit staff against your company’s values and invest in any skills that are lacking in their role.
  1. Communicate, communicate, and communicate! Keep your team engaged and informed with regular updates. Sharing both good and bad news can help create a positive team identity. Where possible, you should also bring the whole team together to hold brief “All Hands” meetings to keep everyone up-to-date on important events.
  1. Be clear on the duties of all roles; fuzzy job descriptions lead to fuzzy performance. Where possible make roles accountable for specific tasks or operations and ensure responsibilities are clearly defined. Shared responsibilities should be avoided at all costs.
  1. Perform frequent performance reviews for each staff member. This allows feedback and corrective actions to be given (and it does not need to be associated with increases in salary). Give each team member Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), which can easily be quantified at each performance review. KPI’s need to measurable so that they are easily quantifiable.
  1. Promote knowledge sharing. People love to learn so why not make this part of your company’s culture. It doesn’t have to be in the form of formal training but things like lunchtime learning sessions (where members of staff take turns to share their specific knowledge in a certain area) can be a great way to improve skillsets across the business. If you make these sort of sessions optional, they also help identify the people that want to learn and expand on their knowledge.
  1. Recognition and reward. If you want to keep the best people make sure you recognise them and reward them accordingly. This doesn’t have to be a financial incentive – award schemes and simple communication of a job well done across the business can do wonders to engage valuable team members. Do you know who your stars are and have you told them?

By Darren Forster, Chief Technical Officer, Impero Software