The key is to be interested in trends, while preparing for possible scenarios can help.

How well prepared are typical small- to medium-size businesses for future skills shortages?

Not well prepared, given the conversations we have within the SME sector. SMEs are typically less resourced than larger organisations. Projects such as retention of key staff, future workforce planning and graduate programmes are not as frequently practised and money to spend on employer branding isn't always on the to-do list.

Questions SME owners/managers could be asking themselves are:

•Is my company in a sector experiencing skill shortages?


•What skills are essential for me to remain in business?

•Which of my employees might be retiring soon?

•What plans can I put in place to keep highly-prized employees?

How can fast-growing small businesses plan to meet skill requirements for an uncertain future?

The key is to be curious and interested in trends. Given, for instance, that a three-year business plan predicts growth, it naturally follows that an increase in skills will be required. Taking time to use scenario planning can shed light on likely future needs.

The handbook Business Model Generation, by Osterwalder & Pigneur, is an excellent resource to stimulate planning.

What are some steps to prepare for future skills shortages?

•Workforce planning.

•Identify skills shortages and know where to find them.

•Engage with people before you need them.

•Set up talent communities or networks of potential employees.

•Employ young people/graduates who can grow into future roles.

•Train and develop your workforce now for the future.

•Set up social networks.

•Work with experts to come up with innovative ways to identify, source and attract talent.

•Develop your employer brand.

What can small businesses offer if they can't give competitive salary packages?

Look at your employee value proposition. SMEs are less likely to be able to compete on pay but can certainly compete on other benefits such as work-life balance, flexible working options, training and development, culture, social gatherings, variety of work and responsibilities, rewards and recognition, incentives and small perks that go a long way.

People are motivated and engaged by true stories and inclusive business models so it works well if CEOs can be involved in employment interviews and tell the story of their company. People want to feel as though they are a part of something bigger than just a job. Just as employees want to feel motivated and fulfilled in their jobs, potential employees want to join an organisation that stands for something.

Candidates have a choice so they are doing their homework when assessing where to work. Top of the list are a clear vision, values and company culture.

Jane Kennelly is director of Frog Recruitment.