SMEs afraid to expand workforce


Data shows that the number of businesses that see opportunities to expand the workforce is now just 14 per cent, the lowest level since April 2013.

The dramatic fall in the number of SMEs seeing the opportunity to expand their workforce comes amid concern about the future of the UK’s immigration control. Of those with workforce concerns, more than a quarter of SME decision makers, report they are most worried about the availability of skilled workers, signalling the need for clarity following the triggering of Article 50.

Results from the survey of over 1,000 SME owners and decision makers show that, since April 2016, opportunities to expand the have plummeted in all but three sectors.

Finance and Accounting has seen the steepest drop of all, with opportunities in the workforce falling by more than half. In manufacturing, the number of opportunities have fallen 48 per cent, while in IT and Telecoms, they are down 45 per cent. All three are now lower than average.

There are a very few sectors who are bucking the trend among small and medium-sized businesses.  The Construction, Legal, and Transport and Distribution industries are all reporting workforce expansion opportunities well above the average.

Almost a quarter of SMEs in the transport and distribution sector see workforce expansion opportunities, while more than a quarter in construction, and almost two in five see opportunities to expand in the legal sector.

Paul Tombs, Head of SME Proposition at Zurich, comments: “While SMEs are reporting no major concerns about the current business environment, when it comes to the workforce, small and medium business owners are fearing the worst. Since Brexit, the number of businesses seeing the opportunity to expand their workforce is worrying low, because there are no guarantees about the future availability of skilled labour.

“Businesses with smaller workforces are extremely susceptible to staffing and skills shortages, and a lack of clarity around work permits and movement of workers after Brexit is doing nothing to assuage these fears. There is a crisis looming in the UK, as employers gear up for a scramble to get and keep any skilled workers they can lay their hands on.”