Mind the skills gap: How to use work experience to recruit top talent

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Dr David Docherty, CEO of the National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB), and Chairman of Placer explains why work experience is a key tool for SMEs to develop a quality future talent pipeline.  

For SMEs, every single employee plays a pivotal part to the success of the company. The majority consist of up to 20 members of staff, meaning its critical to recruit the right talent, with the right skills, first time round. According to the SME Future Attitudes report, investing in suitable staff is one of the top three business priorities for SMEs. Similarly, with 72% of millennials saying they would prefer to work in an SME; how can businesses develop the way they recruit to capitalise on this sentiment and access bright, young talent?

Use work experience to meet your future employees

Offering quality work experience is an effective way for SMEs to connect with students who want to develop their skills in a smaller business environment, and consequently source potential employees of the future. Work experience opportunities, be it a day, a week or a year, allow SMEs to test-drive individuals, assess their ability and train them in the specific skills and attributes the company needs, without commitment. Building relationships through quality work experience placements means when graduate roles arise, SMEs can access  a pool of talent to cherry pick possible candidates from, who are able to hit the ground running.

Save time and money on recruitment

Using work experience as a recruitment tool can also save SMEs time and money. Recruiting for the right skills can be expensive, by using work experience to develop business critical expertise with talented undergraduates, SMEs can save on future recruitment costs in the mid-term. Using recruitment technology, for example, that offers structure and scale to access a wider range of students looking for work experience, can save further costs and vital resources for time-poor SMEs.

Recruit the right team to help scale-up

Smaller businesses need the right team members to keep the business nimble, innovative and to scale-up. Using work experience to access a wide and diverse range of minds can help bring fresh ideas to the table. A 2015 McKinsey report found companies with a diverse mix of employees are 35% more likely to outperform their competitors and have financial returns above the national industry average. A diverse team can bring with it a greater variety of ideas and approaches to problem-solving which in turn, can deliver improved results for the business. With a smaller workforce, diversity is a vital way to capitalise on the potential improvements to crucial business areas.

Set a quality project for a positive experience

Perception is everything for SMEs when it comes to recruiting top talent. Offering quality work experience opportunities that give students actual projects to do, as opposed to making tea and fetching lunch, will be of significant benefit to creating a positive image as an employer, as well as gauging the way students approach their work. Firstly, the student feels like their knowledge and input is valued and secondly, employers can see how students work and apply themselves to the tasks given.

Use technology to reduce biased recruiting

Placer, a work experience app and platform connecting employers offering work experience opportunities with students, uses technology to reduce unconscious bias but also to match students with employers based on their interests and skills alone. This has benefits in two ways; firstly, it levels the playing field for the student as employers shortlist candidates based on their skills and interests alone. Secondly, it enables students to look beyond familiar big brand names, and learn where their skills and interests fit with a wide range of employers and SMEs they may not have previously considered.

Develop work-ready skills and attract work-ready ideas

If employers want the best, they have to be the best. SMEs can use work experience to help students develop the skills the business needs while they are still in education. As a result once students have graduated they are ready to make the transition into the workplace and start bringing their knowledge, and work-ready ideas into your organisation.

Placer is a new social enterprise created through a partnership between not-for-profit the National Centre for Universities and Business, Jisc,and Unite Students. It enables SMEs and start-ups to reach a diverse young talent pool of digitally native students with key skills, far beyond their word-of-mouth networks with just one, currently free, post. Employers can sign-up to Placer at placer.co.uk.