With SMEs employing over 16 million people in the UK, according to the Federation of Small Businesses, they now account for over half the country’s working population. This means that their importance to the UK economy cannot be overstated. Their strategies and sentiment when it comes to hiring is of vital importance. With Brexit uncertainty casting a long shadow over the business landscape, the latest news from Oxford Economics makes cheering reading. In a survey conducted for American Express, the current challenging business environment has not put a damper on UK SMEs’ confidence in their hiring ability in the next twelve months.

The annual study (conducted in fifteen countries and taking opinions from senior executives and decision makers) found that 61 percent of UK SMEs were confident about their hiring ability. This accounts for almost two-thirds, and although it’s down 3% from last year, it’s still head and shoulders over the global average of 53%.

The research also shows that attitudes towards talent retention are gradually changing as well. Today’s world has seen an increasing focus on investing in development and training for employees, as well as committing to ethical and social values- people are more likely to want to stay with a company that cares, not only about them but also about the wider world. 23% of the SMEs surveyed saw comprehensive training and development programmes as a key driver towards improving skills, culture and talent, making it the second most important factor after salaries, which still come in first at 29%.
Incentives for long-term service have dropped in importance, perhaps reflecting the increasing proportion and flexible and freelance workers in the country. The best way to keep and encourage talent in the SME world is still obviously offering a decent salary, with extra benefits on the side such as free travel or food are also seen as an important way to attract and retain a skilled workforce.

As we continue through uncertain waters, it is definitely encouraging that the SME sector, sometimes called the backbone of the British economy, is still confident that it can continue to deliver.

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