SMEs still see skills shortage as biggest barrier - survey

18 January 2018

Nearly a fifth of small businesses see skill shortages as the biggest barrier to productivity in their workforce, according to a new survey.

Resilience, adaptability and interpersonal skills are most lacking in new recruits, say 37 per cent of small businesses. 
Significantly fewer (24 per cent) businesses feel technical and mathematical skills are in short supply, a similar proportion (23 per cent) for commercial skills.    

The findings come from a PwC survey of decision makers in over 300 small businesses.
The results supplement research with a panel of larger businesses on addressing the productivity challenge.  

These bigger firms agree that while the focus on improving so-called STEM skills is important, equal attention is needed to soft skills - adaptability and resilience were felt particularly crucial in today’s rapidly automating world.

Matthew Hammond (pictured), PwC’s Midlands Regional Chairman and Birmingham Office Senior Partner, said: “Improving skills is rightly a big focus of the Government’s Industrial strategy. 

“There’s a lot of  attention on STEM skills,  but getting the soft skills right is just as important. 

“Skills such as resilience and adaptability are arguably harder to teach, but essential to businesses across every sector and every size.”

One in five of the small businesses felt Government investment in improving skills would have the biggest impact on improving workplace productivity. 

But more small firms (a quarter of those surveyed) think a greater impact would come from reducing the tax and regulatory compliance burden. Trusha Kachhela, Midlands tax partner at PwC, said: “Anything that distracts businesses and workers from reaching their potential is arguably a drag on productivity. 

“A business can spend around 14 working days preparing and filing its taxes. Anything that can be done to ease this burden would be a quick win in boosting business output.”

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