Irish SMEs call for visa change to plug skills gap

4 Feb 2016

In an increasingly competitive market, only 38pc of Irish SMEs believe they can compete with multinationals when recruiting for the best candidates, according to a report from Hays Recruitment and the Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association (ISME).

The report, Resourcing from Growth – launched today (4 February) at a Hays-hosted event at Chartered Accountants Ireland – surveyed some 563 Irish SMEs, gathering insights into market confidence, potential obstacles to growth, recruiting methods and sector requirements.

According to the survey results detailed in the report, while SMEs are a driving force in the Irish economy – employing almost 70pc of the private sector workforce, and accounting for 50pc of national turnover – many of them feel ill-equipped to compete with multinationals like Google, Facebook or Apple for the best talent.

This is in large part due to the shortage of skilled candidates in Ireland. Often, importing talent from overseas can be the only way to fill a role. As SMEs seldom have the resources of their larger counterparts, this is not a viable option for them under current immigration laws.

As such, 45pc of SMEs surveyed would support changes to the current visa regime – which requires non-EU workers to seek sponsorship from an employer – such as removing the sponsorship requirement and making it easier for skilled overseas workers to seek roles in Ireland.

A lack of knowledge

Although three-quarters of Irish SMEs are confident in their ability to grow in 2016, they are less confident about their recruitment abilities, with 41pc of those surveyed stating that one of the biggest obstacles to growth is their lack of ability and resources to recruit the right staff in an increasingly competitive market.

Hays attributes this lack to the absence of a dedicated HR team, a lack of knowledge in how to hire, and little or no understanding of employment law. Just 35pc of SMEs have received training in recruitment practices, and 78pc have basic, or worse than basic, knowledge of employment law.

In a bid to educate SME employers on all aspects of the hiring process, Hays has developed a seven-step online toolkit, the Recruitment Roadmap, to guide employers through all stages of the recruitment process.

Hays will be demonstrating this toolkit during ISME’s upcoming briefing sessions.

A lack of confidence

While the above-mentioned obstacles are all certainly contributing factors in SMEs’ difficult recruitment processes, the Hays/ISME report indicates that there is more at play here, from a perceived media bias to a lack of self-confidence.

According to Mark Fielding, CEO at ISME: “SMEs are often overlooked by the media and by the most qualified candidates who do not understand the value of working in small organisations. Added to this, SMEs themselves are often guilty of underselling what they have to offer.

“SMEs must communicate their message effectively to potential candidates. While they may not offer the same monetary incentives and perks as a multinational, they need to advertise and promote the significance of what it is that they do offer.”

Hays Ireland MD Richard Eardley reiterates this point: “There is no doubt that there is a chasm in the depth of resources between multinationals and SMEs. However, we should not undervalue what SMEs can offer to the top candidates.

“There are many advantages to working in smaller businesses, such as the environment, the range of work you are involved in, and the ability to directly impact on results.”

Technology – recruitment’s saving grace

In a recruitment market as competitive as the current one, businesses of all sizes – from SMEs right up to the multinationals – must be proactive in seeking new and innovative ways to find and attract top talent.

Mike McDonagh, director at Hays Recruitment, argues that technological advancements may be what makes the difference in recruitment.

“Technology should be the leveller for SMEs when it comes to hiring,” says McDonagh. “Obviously, SMEs don’t always have the resources of their big cousins – the multinationals and the plcs – but what they do have is agility, flexibility, freedom and creativity to try out new technology and new platforms to enable their recruitment activity.”

While new technologies can be the saving grace for some start-ups, it’s certainly not a case of one-size-fits-all.

According to McDonagh, while newer companies have, perhaps, more scope for exploring new opportunities in recruitment tech, the danger is that “more established SMEs … [won’t] have the time or expertise to investigate what new titbits of technology might give them the edge when looking to hire a new employee”.

Today’s report certainly supports the latter scenario. Of the 563 SME employers surveyed, only 17pc use LinkedIn for recruitment, and just 12pc use other social media sites – all free and simple to use systems that can make a huge difference in hiring.

Main image via Shutterstock

Kirsty Tobin
By Kirsty Tobin

Kirsty Tobin served as careers editor of Silicon Republic from 2015 up to August 2017. When she was younger, she had a dream where she started and won a fight with a T-Rex, so she’s pretty sure she kicked butt at this, too. Passions include eating all the cake, watching more TV than is healthy and sassy comebacks.

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