Image: Rich Tea Image: Rich Tea

They provide jobs for more than 15.6 million British workers and one in three UK small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are planning to increase their workforce over the next 12 months.

According to eBay UK, men and women at the helm of Britain’s thriving small businesses are defying convention when it comes to what makes a good employee.

eBay’s Employee Skills Index, released today in partnership with YouGov, and suggests that practical skills gained through hands-on experience are valued more highly by SMEs than traditional accomplishments such as academic achievement.

The majority (56%) of SME employers are agnostic about age, placing value on experience above all else. That is good news for older workers, with 900,000 more 50-64 year olds now in work than in 2010. Seven in 10 recruiters described an applicant having a degree as ‘unimportant', favouring soft skills instead.

A significant 61% of small business bosses favour candidates with a strong grasp of marketing and advertising. Additionally, half (51%) of SMEs place importance on a candidate’s ability to use social media highlighting its increasingly important role in the marketing mix.

Digital skills are favoured by 56% of recruiters, and specialist digital capabilities like coding is appealing for 41%. Small businesses are seeking to bring this expertise in-house to optimise their online shop window.

Tanya Lawler, vice president at eBay UK, said: “The nature of business, especially online retail, is changing rapidly. Our business-savvy SMB community is on the look-out for versatile talent - regardless of age, background or gender - with the personable skills and life experience to help them develop and grow.

“It’s good news for the online retail space and for new hires as recruitment picks up in 2016.”