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Scaling-up through skills

4th May 17 2:06 pm

Want to scale up your business?

It’s no secret that the UK is facing a talent shortage. We look at how scale-up businesses can attract and retain skilled staff to unlock rapid growth.

The last Employer Skills Survey found that a quarter of job vacancies in 2015 went unfilled due to a lack of skilled applicants. It’s an issue that looms large in SME’s concerns for the future and, for scale-up businesses, it presents a stumbling block in the path to fast growth.

Scale-ups create jobs at three times the rate of businesses in the FTSE 100*, leaving them more exposed to the skills shortage than any other sector.

A recent review by the ScaleUp Institute outlined various ways the UK government could help scale-ups access talent in the future. In the here and now, however, the real challenge is to secure new talent and keep it. In a competitive job market, that’s no mean feat: but it’s not all about the pay cheque.

A changing workforce

The workforce is changing fast. There are now more millennials in the workplace than any other generation, bringing a unique set of skills and characteristics that are essential to future-proofing any business. For scale-ups millennials are, and will increasingly be, key to unlocking growth through technical innovation and connectivity.

Attracting this talent is crucial, but with this new set of skills comes a level of expectation that doesn’t always fit with traditional employee incentive structures. Younger generations prioritise knowledge, experience and flexibility, seeking a work-life balance and social engagement. Older generations tend to be motivated by salaries, incentives and ownership.

Unsurprisingly, scale-ups need to attract both to succeed. While millennials bring new skills and a fresh perspective, the experience and wisdom of the older generation is essential to building the foundations needed to scale-up securely. A business that can attract both generations, and succeed in uniting that workforce under a shared corporate vision and purpose, will equip itself with the talent and skills it needs to thrive.

Jumping the skills gap

Businesses with a low staff turnover and those who attract and retain the best talent share certain characteristics. Here’s how a firm’s purpose, communication and culture, underpinned by well-thought out incentives and financial packages, can attract talented staff with the right values for your business.


“More than ever, it’s important to have something that binds the company together, a unifying purpose,” says Sancho Simmonds, Smith & Williamson partner and director of the ScaleUp Institute, “and it has to be authentic.” A clear corporate vision not only improves a scale-up’s chances of attracting talented, motivated staff; it helps to join every employee together through a sense of shared ownership.


The time has gone that a manager could delegate tasks without explanation. People want to understand the context of their role, to feel part of that higher purpose. Give staff at every level the skills to delegate effectively and communicate better. Keep communications sharp, short and punchy, but always show the task’s purpose in the greater scheme of the business or department.


We’re seeing a shift in mindset that places work/life balance at the heart of business. In the US, an increasing number of leaders are addressing productivity and staff loyalty by promoting wellbeing, looking at how they can help their employees in a more personal way. Employers have started to incorporate their staff’s personal interests into the workplace, bringing in fitness instructors, film clubs and other social activities to help address balance and give something back.

Additionally, forging a good working relationship with colleagues makes a real difference when it comes to staff retention. From a commercial perspective, this has significant benefits, creating employees that look beyond their own personal role to their place in a larger team.


¼ Job vacancies went unfilled due to skills shortage (2015)

2020 – the year millennials will occupy 1/3 of the workforce

£63bn – the annual cost of the digital skills gap in the UK

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