Skilled staff key factor for growth

The ability to attract and retain skilled staff has been among the most significant challenges facing businesses in the UK for some time. But our research shows that recent uncertainty over Britain’s economic performance and its relationship with the European Union means this issue is being felt even more keenly today.

The ability to attract and retain skilled staff has been among the most significant challenges facing businesses in the UK for some time. But our research shows that recent uncertainty over the UK's economic performance and its relationship with the European Union (EU) means this issue is being felt even more keenly today.

Our latest Santander Trade Barometer confirms that successful recruitment remains one of the key drivers of business growth: almost two-thirds of businesses (65%) say their ability to attract skilled staff will play an important or very important part in helping them grow over the next three years. That makes it the most significant contributory factor to future success - ahead of factors such as domestic economic performance or even a satisfactory conclusion to the Brexit process.

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People drive growth

These findings echo statistics from Santander’s recent Trailblazers study, which analysed the differences between high-growth businesses and other companies in the UK. For example, 73% of faster-growing organisations said they were planning to increase investment in staff training and development over the next three years in comparison with just 37% of lower-growth firms.

The new Santander Trade Barometer research, however, provides worrying signs when it comes to businesses’ recruitment plans: the proportion of businesses that say they intend to invest in recruiting new staff over the coming 12 months has dropped to 52% – a fall that is likely to be the result, at least in part, of the ongoing uncertainty relating to Brexit.

Given the strong link between growth and investment in staff identified in the Trailblazers report, any reduction in hiring could have serious implications not just for individual business growth but also for wider economic performance in the UK.

Staffing issues beginning to bite

The latest edition of the Santander Trade Barometer also suggests the UK's planned departure from the EU has already had a negative impact on staffing levels at British businesses, almost a third (29%) say they have experienced recruitment difficulties as a result of a drop in the number of European workers, while a similar proportion (28%) say they have seen an outflow of EU nationals from their workforces.

Interestingly, businesses which say they are about to start trading internationally for the first time are most likely to have been affected by a lack of EU workers (48%): it could be that many of these businesses have decided to respond to domestic staffing issues by seeking new markets overseas.

At Santander, we understand how crucial it is for businesses to be able to identify, attract and retain talented staff. The Santander Universities programme enables small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to connect with talented individuals from higher education institutions all over the UK to help their businesses boost growth. We do this via different programmes and initiatives, including our internship and apprenticeship programmes.

For the businesses taking part in this programme, this provides access to the skills and talent they require such as the ability to speak a second language if the company trades abroad, or digital expertise if it is looking to increase trade via ecommerce. It is an approach which, we hope, could go some way towards addressing the staffing challenges currently being experienced across the UK economy.

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