Cartoon of a stressed out worker crouching under the weight of a heavy workload, signified by a large black scribble over her head.
Image: © Dzianis Vasilyeu/

Heavier workloads on staff: The side effect of European SMEs’ skills gap

15 Nov 2023

A Eurobarometer report showed that Irish SMEs are looking to foreign shores to mitigate skills shortages hitting European businesses.

More than two-thirds (68pc) of SMEs in Europe are struggling to find people with the right skills for their companies to succeed. The single biggest side effect of this widespread skills shortage is an increased workload for the staff of these companies. That’s according to a recent Eurobarometer report that looked at how skills shortages are affecting Europe’s SMEs.

The report was based on a survey of small and medium businesses in several EU countries. The survey also included some large businesses with more than 250 employees and some non-EU nations such as Canada, the UK, the US and Japan for comparison. Answers were collected over the phone and all fieldwork was carried out by Ipsos European Public Affairs between September and October of this year.

An increased workload for existing staff is the number one side effect of the skills shortage, with 48pc of companies in the EU citing it as a problem. The increased workload is higher in medium-sized companies (55pc) than in smaller SMEs (47pc to 49pc).

Increased workload for existing staff is the most-cited impact of skills shortages in almost all EU member states and the proportion selecting this impact ranges from 13pc in Lithuania to 60pc in Belgium.

As well as increased workloads, reduced profitability and growth, reduced productivity, reduced R&D activity and quality problems were other unwelcome issues that stemmed from skills shortages.

Of the 485 Irish businesses surveyed, 32pc said it had been ‘very difficult’ to find and hire staff with the right skills over the past 24 months. This was similar to the EU27 average of 38pc. Only 22pc of Irish and 11pc of EU27 respondents said that hiring people with the skills they needed had not been difficult at all.

Foreign frontiers

It seems that some Irish businesses are looking to other shores in an effort to solving their skills shortages. When asked if they tried to hire foreign talent to fill skills gaps at their companies, 21pc of Irish respondents said they had done so from other EU nations and 20pc said they had looked beyond the EU. The averages for the EU27 countries were 14pc and 16pc respectively.

In addition to looking for talent from other countries, Irish SME leaders said that more upskilling programmes were needed to create a pipeline of skilled people. Initiatives such as Enterprise Nation’s Go and Grow Online scheme is an example of a digital training programme aimed at SMEs that was first announced last year. The group said at the time of its launch that it hoped to support up to 20,000 Irish SMEs and their staff with skills such as cybersecurity, digital marketing and cloud accounting.

10 things you need to know direct to your inbox every weekday. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of essential sci-tech news.

Blathnaid O’Dea
By Blathnaid O’Dea

Blathnaid O’Dea joined Silicon Republic in 2021 as Careers reporter, coming from a background in the Humanities. She likes people, pranking, pictures of puffins – and apparently alliteration.

Loading now, one moment please! Loading