Strategies for SMEs' hiring conundrum

Strategies for SMEs' hiring conundrum

There is no doubt that hiring the right people helps a company thrive and prosper. People are the lifeblood of a business and have a direct impact on the company's culture, morale and productivity.

However, hiring the right people can be challenging for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Singapore, with intense competition from large multinational corporations (MNCs) which have dedicated human resource (HR) teams, access to advanced recruitment processes and well-established brands.

Additionally, MNCs are often perceived as offering higher remuneration, better benefits, career prospects and efficient organisational structures. In contrast, SMEs are often seen as less professional, inflexible and non-transparent.

While many SMEs in Singapore have a positive business outlook, their true potential may be held back by manpower constraints. The need for high-quality staff is a pressing need for SMEs in almost every sector.

Attracting the right talent

In the fight to attract the best talent, SMEs need to take important steps to ensure that potential employees are clear about the value of working at the company. For example, there is a rising trend of job seekers looking for a more close-knit yet challenging environment that allows them to think on their feet and make a real difference.

Candidates need to have a sense of an organisation's culture to see if there is a fit before deciding if they should take up the job offer. SMEs that highlight this clearly through both traditional and social media channels are better able to attract talented candidates.

SMEs should also explore adopting fair and progressive employment practices to enhance their HR capabilities and sophistication in a relatively short timeframe. While some may think that such practices are a luxury that SMEs are unable afford, there are quick and simple steps that SMEs can take to place themselves on a par with the hiring practices of MNCs.

A set of objective and fair selection criteria based on merit (such as skills, experience or ability to perform the job) and which does not consider age, race, gender, religion, marital status and disability should be consistently applied at all stages of the recruitment process. By practising this, SMEs are sending a clear message to candidates that they support the growth of a fair and inclusive workplace that helps their employees perform to their full potential.

Applying fair employment practices helps SMEs answer the perennial question of how they can tap into a wider talent pool. They will now be able to tap the valuable experience and skills from a diverse group of job seekers such as older workers and mothers returning to work.

However, as SMEs grow and recruitment is delegated to managers across the business, there needs to be a system for ensuring a consistent recruitment and retention approach.

Recruitment should be aligned with the company's values, and interviews should be carried out fairly and effectively. This might involve documenting processes and procedures so that everyone knows what they are and can follow them.

Retaining star performers

Understanding the talent and aspirations of new hires is key to getting the best out of people. To retain talented employees, SMEs need to develop an environment of continuous development, so that people remain challenged and inspired, while moving forward in their careers.

Some SMEs are now structuring their companies in an agile way, for example by offering part-time positions, which makes their business attractive to talented individuals who also want time with their families or for other pursuits.

With more Singaporeans are seeking greater flexibility in managing both work responsibilities and personal commitments, exemplary SMEs are adopting technology such as cloud, mobility and collaboration tools to allow staff to do their jobs effectively where and when they want to.

If SMEs are able to demonstrate that they are committed to inspiring and nurturing their staff, they will be able to attract the best talent that will help their business to flourish.

Avoiding common pitfalls

Beyond matching the potential candidate's skills to the job requirements, it is important for SMEs to also consider candidates that have the right attitudes and values to fit the business and help it grow. They need to show a desire and the ability to work in a dynamic environment, take responsibility and work towards the company's defined goals.

SME business owners should consider not only the immediate needs of the business, but also the skills and talent that the business will need to grow and thrive in the future. The company also needs to ensure that star performers will have an opportunity to work on interesting assignments that allow them to develop their experience and enhance their careers.

This is where fair and progressive employment practices come into play. SMEs should highlight their forward-thinking HR practices to potential candidates to assure them that there are effective and consistent processes in place to hire and retain people across the business. This includes emphasising practices that address and manage grievances, as well as making career development a central part of the business. While it may not be possible to promote everyone all the time, SMEs can keep their staff engaged and motivated through other means, such as public recognition for good work or achievements, job rotation or skills upgrading.

Fair and progressive practices

While some candidates are drawn to large corporations, many job seekers in Singapore are now interested in working in dynamic, fast-paced SMEs.

Implementing fair and progressive employment practices allows SMEs to compete effectively for talent, even though they may not have the same depth of resources as MNCs. SMEs should also note that there are non-profit organisations that can help them to improve their hiring and retention processes. For example, the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) provides resources (such as training, customised advice and access to implementation guides) to help employers enhance their employment practices.

The emergence of home-grown SMEs fuels optimism in Singapore's economy and instils pride in the labour force. In this context, it is very likely that the founder of an inclusive and progressive SME also has many other responsibilities to manage. It is crucial that these individuals take a moment amid their pressing schedules and consider how progressive employment practices can help to attract and retain the best talents, and how these talents can contribute to the further development of the SME scene in Singapore.

This article was first published on Jan 26, 2016.
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