Economic uncertainty the biggest challenge facing 2.5 million SMEs

UK SMEs say that economic uncertainty (45%), ongoing digitalisation efforts (41%) and increased competition (37%) are the three biggest challenges facing their organisation in the next two years, according to new research from Robert Half UK.

  • The biggest challenges SMEs face in the next two years include economic uncertainty (45%), ongoing digitalisation efforts (41%) and increased competition (37%) 
  • Current skills gap is fuelling the talent dilemma: SMEs require strong leadership to navigate this difficult period, but two in five say it’s currently lacking 
  • 33% of business leaders cite soft skills – including emotional intelligence, communication and collaboration – as the most crucial requirement for leadership roles

London, 30 May 2019 - UK SMEs say that economic uncertainty (45%), ongoing digitalisation efforts (41%) and increased competition (37%) are the three biggest challenges facing their organisation in the next two years, according to new research from Robert Half UK.1 

Table 1: Biggest challenges facing SMEs

 
  Percentage Total number of SMEs2
Economic uncertainty 45% 2,547,000
Ongoing digitalisation efforts 41% 2,320,600
Increased competition 37% 2,094,200
Access to talent 36%  2,037,600
Regulatory changes 35% 1,981,000

Source: Robert Half UK

SMEs require strong leadership to navigate this period of change in the next two years, but a significant proportion believe that strong leadership is currently lacking within their organisation. 

With SMEs being the backbone of the UK economy, accounting for 52% of all private sector turnover (£2 trillion annually)2, poor leadership has the potential to cause a significant negative economic impact. 

When looking at implementing new digital solutions, two in five say their leadership team is resistant to change (41%), a further two in five say they have poor soft skills (40%), while three in 10 cite a lack of communication (30%).

The skills identified for strong leadership include strategic thinking, adaptability, emotional intelligence, communication and collaboration. These soft skills – once overlooked and undervalued –– are now being identified as the most crucial to become a CEO (33%). 

Matt Weston, Managing Director of Robert UK, commented: “SMEs planning for the future will need strong leadership now more than ever to cope with economic uncertainty, ongoing digitalisation efforts and increased competition.”

“To build out their teams and overcome the skills gap, many businesses are now adopting flexible recruitment strategies so they can move quickly to secure their desired candidates. Developing a strong pipeline of talent and planning succession carefully in advance will ensure companies cultivate a strong leadership team – one that is capable of navigating through uncertain times.”

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Notes to editors

  1. The study was developed by Robert Half and conducted in January 2019 by an independent research firm among 700 senior decision-makers in businesses in the UK. This survey is part of an international study on hiring trends and career ambitions in the modern workplace.
  2. ONS Business Population Estimates 2018. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/business-population-estimates-2018

About Robert Half

Robert Half is the world’s first and largest specialised recruitment consultancy and member of the S&P 500 and #1 in our industry on FORTUNE® magazine’s “World's Most Admired Companies” list (2017). Founded in 1948, the company has over 300 offices worldwide providing temporary, interim and permanent recruitment solutions for accounting and finance, financial services, technology, and administrative professionals. Robert Half offers workplace and job seeker resources at roberthalf.co.uk and twitter.com/roberthalfuk.