SMEs need to embrace technology to plug the looming talent gap

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By Mariano Mamertino, EMEA Economist at Indeed

Record levels of employment in the UK are a cause for cheer – there are few things economists tend to agree on, but nearly all will say that high levels of employment, currently at a 42-year peak, are better than low levels.

However, it would be remiss of any economist not to point out that high levels of employment do create some challenges that need addressing. As employment figures hit solid growth month-on-month, we might begin to see some of these concerns rise to the surface.

High employment creates a “job seekers’ market”, where people looking for jobs hold most of the power (because they are limited in supply). For employers looking to hire more people and fill newly-created vacancies, this creates a challenge. Finding people to work for your business is becoming harder.

In Britain today, these fears are being exacerbated by the ever-present threat of the tap of EU labour being slowly wrenched off. Recently, the Federation of Small Businesses found that more than half of these companies in the UK worry that losing EU workers will close them down for good.

And, indeed, the pain – as is often the case – is felt most at the smaller end of the scale. Local businesses will find it increasingly hard to reach new employees, especially as a lot of independents have historically relied upon their own shop window to find new recruits. The classic British high street would not be complete without one or two ‘Help Wanted’ signs hung in shop windows encouraging passers-by to enquire within.

Bad news. This doesn’t really work anymore. Not only are there fewer passers-by on the high street, but people know they don’t have to go door-to-door looking for work. They can find local jobs on the phone in their pocket – they don’t even have to leave the sofa, never mind the house.

The move to mobile has been well documented over the past few years – four out of five UK adults now have a smartphone, which is also becoming a prime device for submitting job applications.

The fundamental shift in how people find work means that the typical approach, adopted by anyone from the local florist to the dry cleaner down to the road, lacks in sophistication and begs the need for new solutions that bridge the gap between new technologies and offline job listings.

Combined with the rise of social media and new digital platforms, using location technology in maximising recruitment efforts is the next trend waiting to happen. While business pages on Google Maps have made an early impact, there are now even more supportive ways that mobilise anyone and everyone to become a ‘job spotter’ and earn rewards from helping others find jobs.

We have seen this phenomenon take off in the US and Australia, where nearly a million jobs have been uploaded to the Job Spotter platform by ordinary people walking about their local area and simply taking photographs of ‘Help Wanted’ signs on their phones. It’s a win-win situation as business owners can also benefit by taking just a couple of pictures of their own posting and instantly increase their pool of choice to millions of potential recruits.

We don’t want our strong labour market to drive small businesses into a position where they can’t compete for new recruits. We need to help them level the playing field and get their jobs in front of people too. The good news is that smart technology can help to ensure not a single stone is left unturned.