To grow successfully, SMEs need not only funding and vision but also a skilled workforce ready to meet the challenges – yet 38 per cent of IoD members say skills shortages are limiting their company’s ability to expand. Santander helps firms to attract and retain the best recruits through its Breakthrough Talent programme
The number of UK start-ups is at a record high and creative, energetic firms continue to disrupt, innovate and grow. Research by Santander identified one of the key growth drivers for assertive businesses as being expansion of the workforce, but a barrier to this ambition is the skills gap in the pool of potential recruits.
In May, an IoD Policy Voice survey asked members which of the following factors, if any, negatively affect their business. From a list of 13 options, including UK economic conditions, the global economic situation, government regulations and taxes, skills shortages was the number one issue cited, with 38 per cent of respondents saying that a lack of skills was threatening their growth.
The latest CBI/Accenture survey, Growth for Everyone, reports widely across a range of employment issues. And for the first time it highlights that the effects of over-zealous regulation on employers’ willingness to recruit have been surpassed by concerns that skills shortages are now the key threat to competitiveness. The problem is most serious in the engineering and tech sectors. Indeed when British firms that employ engineers and IT staff were surveyed by the Institution of Engineering and Technology more than half of those questioned reported that they could not find the employees they were looking for, and 59 per cent said that the shortage could harm their business.
The graduate gap
The ongoing lack of high-quality graduates in Stem [science, technology, engineering and maths] subjects is well-known. Accessing the talent that does exist is often difficult for SMEs, especially in the graduate recruitment market. But in 2014 the Higher Education Statistics Agency noted that the overall employment rate for UK and EU graduates – six months on from securing a full-time first degree – was up from 68.5 per cent in 2013 to 70.7 per cent in 2014, and unemployment after six months was down from 9.1 per cent to
7.8 per cent. The overall picture is now one of strong competition between businesses in their attempts to attract and retain the best graduate talent.
How Santander can help you
As a response to these twin challenges, Santander has established its Breakthrough Talent programme, designed to help businesses find the best people with the most relevant skills needed to support their firm’s growth and to offer them an internship.
Simon Bray, managing director of Santander Universities and Breakthrough, says: “The Talent aspect of Breakthrough provides a practical link between SMEs and the outstanding talent available at our partner universities. Our intern process makes accessing talent straightforward for SMEs – we have great relationships with 79 universities across the UK and can make the right local connections.” The Breakthrough programme places student and graduate interns for three months. This year Santander will place 2,000 interns and 4,000 have been placed since the scheme started in 2012.
How it works
• Businesses engage with their local Santander Commercial Banking team to discuss the needs of their business. Santander will introduce them to the right people at a local partner university and together they will form a job role and description. This is then advertised through the university and potential candidates are sourced.
• When applications have been received a shortlist can be drawn up and candidates interviewed.
• Santander and the business share the funding of the placement in order to provide a salary for the intern.
• Work placements typically last for
• Recruitment is de-risked due to a three-month job interview.
• Businesses can plug skills gaps, while providing meaningful commercial experience to interns.
• Placements are often project-based, which means there is potential for them to be the focus of a student dissertation.
• Placements have led to a number of permanent job offers since the initiative began – 59 per cent of interns secure some sort of employment following involvement in the scheme.
For more information, visit santandercb.co.uk/breakthrough
David Pickering, director, Mare Nostrum
Small publishing business Mare Nostrum was inundated with work but taking on a new, permanent staff member wasn’t an option, so in May 2013 Santander’s SME internships programme worked with the University of York to provide the company with a field sales and marketing intern.
“I’m a huge fan of well-managed internship schemes,” says David Pickering, director at Mare Nostrum.
“The funding we had from Santander was really appreciated, but so was the expertise and delivery of the internships initiative. Employing interns can be a legal minefield for SMEs, but going to a reputable programme means those boxes are ticked. It is definitely an approach I would recommend. It’s a good opportunity to help a student looking to gain work experience, while taking some of the load off my shoulders.”
The position was awarded to linguistics graduate Francesca Pollard, who began her placement in July 2013. And Mare Nostrum’s first Breakthrough Talent internship has been a huge success: “Francesca now looks after our Italian market,” says Pickering.