Does size really matter? The best kept secret for job seekers

By Lilla Preston

Lilla PrestonThere is a best kept secret for job seekers – that there are big opportunities for you in small businesses. My own career has taken many turns, most I have to say opportunistic and unplanned, but I started my journey as a schools’ Careers Adviser and a few decades on, have a CV that details an interesting pathway that includes 15 years working in, and with, small businesses. Don’t ask, it’s complicated!

From my own experience, I have noted that job seekers do not necessarily aspire to, or consider, the opportunities to progress their career in a smaller company (SMEs). This is such a shame as research tells us that SMEs are spearheading innovation, product and service development and are the lifeblood of a thriving economy. They therefore can provide an exciting and rewarding environment for many people.

A survey by the TUC found that employees in small businesses are the most satisfied at work and most committed and loyal to their organisations. They also felt more engaged and had more freedom to choose their working patterns.

SMEs can also offer talented and skilled individuals variety, early responsibility and the chance to work on their own initiative in an environment that is usually more informal and less bureaucratic than in larger organisations.

So how come SMEs are not on our job seeking radar? It may have something to do with the fact that SMEs don’t have big recruitment budgets and commonly recruit via referral and personal contact, making these opportunities hidden and ‘a best kept secret’.

At the North East BIC, I have been trialling a new initiative, the SME Insights programme, aimed initially at university students & careers advisers to raise awareness of the benefits of working for a smaller company. We recently welcomed 36 Newcastle University students who spent the day at the BIC, meeting some of our many inspiring businesses onsite. Small groups spent time visiting an engineering consultancy, software publisher; facilities management company; design agency; a laboratory and an adoption agency. One quote typifies the experience ‘My perspective has changed completely. I would previously never considered applying to an SME business.’

But it’s not just graduates who have limited knowledge of the great opportunities available. The performance and activity of the UK’s small businesses is critical to economic growth and requires talented individuals from different backgrounds and with diverse experience to meet the significant skills shortages ahead. I would urge many to look towards small companies if they seek an apprenticeship, their first job, promotion, or just a completely new career.

We are also starting to hear about large companies introducing apprenticeships for older workers e.g. Barclays have launched an apprenticeship scheme for people over-50. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could start an initiative to connect older workers with opportunities in smaller companies. I would love to hear your ideas of how to spread the word – that working for a smaller company is a positive career choice.

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