Survey says significant drop in SMEs seeing opportunities to grow workforce post-Brexit

According to a new survey, there has been a significant reduction in British SMEs that see opportunities to grow their workforce since the Brexit vote to leave the European Union.

Zurich Insurance say their SME Risk Index shows that since the Brexit vote, the proportion of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the United Kingdom that sees an opportunity to hire more workers has fallen to 14 percent – the lowest level since April 2013.

workforce - office workerThe survey suggests significantly fewer SME bosses report seeing opportunities to hire more workers since the Brexit vote. Image: pixabay-2196609

Before the Brexit vote, 33 percent of SME bosses surveyed said they could see an opportunity to grow their workforce.

The Index surveyed 1,000 senior SME decision makers online between October 2012 and October 2016. It defines SMEs as businesses employing fewer than 250 people.

SMEs concerned about availability of skilled workers

Paul Tombs, Zurich’s head of SME Proposition, says that while SMEs appear to have “no major concerns about the current business environment, when it comes to the workforce, small and medium business owners are fearing the worst.”

The survey finds that over a quarter (27 percent) of SME bosses worried about workforce issues report being most concerned about the availability of skilled workers.

However, three sectors seem to be bucking the trend. The proportion of SME bosses in the Construction, Legal, and Transport & Distribution sectors who reported seeing opportunities to expand workforces were 23 percent, 26 percent, and 38 percent respectively – well above the overall average.

‘Lack of clarity post-Brexit’

This contrasts sharply with SME bosses in Finance and Accounting, Manufacturing, and IT and Telecoms. The effect of Brexit on their outlook has been dramatic.

In all three sectors, the proportion of bosses who reported seeing opportunities for workforce expansion fell by 53 percent, 48 percent, and 45 percent respectively. All three sectors are now below the average.

“There is a crisis looming in the UK,” says Tombs, “as employers gear up for a scramble to get and keep any skilled workers they can lay their hands on.”

He says smaller businesses are particularly vulnerable to labour and skills shortages and emphasizes that “a lack of clarity around work permits and movement of workers after Brexit is doing nothing to assuage these fears.”