Big tech brain drain: UK SMEs struggle to recruit as 75% of CIOs admit top talent prefers to work for large tech companies

UK SMEs are losing out to big tech in the battle to recruit top tech talent, according to Robert Half UK’s new report, Recruiting for the future: The challenges for UK SMEs.

  • Attracting skilled candidates is the leading talent management challenge, cited by a third (33%) of CIOs
  • To combat this, CIOs are turning to the temporary recruitment market and upskilling existing staff

London, 19 June 2019 – UK SMEs are losing out to big tech in the battle to recruit top tech talent, according to Robert Half UK’s new report, Recruiting for the future: The challenges for UK SMEs.

The white paper, which was based on an independent study of Chief Information Officers (CIOs) across the UK, found that three quarters (75%) of CIOs believe that it is more challenging for SMEs to attract tech talent because they prefer to work for larger technology companies. The lure of working for a household name instead of having a more significant role in a smaller company means that large tech companies appear to be winning the battle to recruit the industry’s highly skilled personnel. 

In a competitive market, attracting talent is a major challenge for CIOs in all businesses. One third (33%) cite talent attraction as their biggest talent management challenge, followed closely by improving productivity (32%) and talent retention (30%). 

One of the biggest contributors to this problem is due to the fiercely competitive market for hard to find skill sets. The majority of CIOs (88%) agree that is it more challenging to find qualified tech professionals today than it was five years ago.

In response, CIOs are looking at alternative solutions to equip their businesses with the necessary digital skills to help their business grow. Nearly half (47%) are planning to train and upskill existing staff, while 37% admitted they would turn to the temporary recruitment market and hire contractors or interim staff to transfer knowledge to permanent employees.

CIOs who do hire from the permanent talent market have recognised that a combination of increased remuneration, benefits, working environment and culture is the key to luring top tech talent. Over a quarter (27%) of CIOs believe the desire for a higher salary is the main motivation for tech talent to move jobs, while over a fifth (21%) say the main reason is the desire for a greater work-life balance. Meanwhile, 14% believe that a lack of desired training and development options is the main driver behind tech talent job moves.

Matt Weston, Managing Director of Robert Half UK, commented: “Digitalisation has created a fast-changing business environment and a significant number of SMEs are in danger of being left behind. Successful SMEs recognise that times are changing and they equip themselves with the necessary digital skills to be able to compete and thrive through collaboration and innovation. Unfortunately, many of them are losing out to big tech companies, who have significant pulling power when it comes to hiring high-quality candidates.

“SMEs that have adapted their hiring strategies are more able to keep up with the pace of the digital revolution. When hiring managers are struggling to find the desired skillsets on a permanent basis, opening up options in the temporary recruitment market or current staff already in place could be viable solutions.

“Furthermore, offering a combination of employee benefits – from competitive remuneration packages to flexible working options improves your chances at competing with larger businesses and securing the nation’s top tech talent to help fuel their growth for years to come.”

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Notes to editors
About Recruiting for the future: The challenges for UK SMEs

Robert Half UK examines the challenges facing the nation’s SMEs as they plan for a digital future. The white paper covers the following topics:

The opportunities and threats posed by digitalisation
The changing tech skills profile
Talent strategies to recruit and retain candidates with digital skills

The report is based on an annual study commissioned by Robert Half UK and conducted by an independent research firm alongside expert interviews. The study is based on more than 100 interviews with CIOs and IT directors in companies across the UK.

About Robert Half

Robert Half is the world’s first and largest specialised recruitment consultancy and member of the S&P 500. We have once again been named to FORTUNE’s “World’s Most Admired Companies®” list and remains the top-ranked staffing firm (February 2020). Founded in 1948, the company has over 300 offices worldwide providing temporary, interim and permanent recruitment solutions for accounting and finance, financial services, technology, legal and administrative professionals. Robert Half offers workplace and jobseeker resources at and