Explore the ScaleUp Annual Review 2023

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Talent and Skills

Scaleups continue to consider access to talent a top challenge as we move into 2024 with 6 in 10 scaleups (58%) ranking it as one of their top three barriers to the continued scaling of their business, second only to access to markets, with 3 in 10 ranking it as their top priority.

The scaleups responding to our survey employ about 10,000 individuals and 7 in 10 see themselves growing their headcount in 2024 as well.  They offer a mix of apprenticeships/ graduate apprenticeships (44%), internships / work experience (58%), as well as returnships (16%) to help get older workers back. To be able to offer more apprenticeships, 4 in 10 scaleups wish for greater collaboration with educational institutions along with flexibility in how the apprenticeship levy can be spent. 3 in 10 feel that knowing more about how apprenticeship schemes work along with knowing how other companies are doing it can also encourage them to offer more of such opportunities.

Scaleups are hungry for skills to fuel ongoing growth and are conscious that they need to adapt to make themselves appealing employers and ensure that they offer quality jobs to attract and retain talented individuals. 

Scaleups continue to invest to retain their existing talent and also take steps to attract new relevant talent as well. When asked about the steps taken, the majority, 7 in 10, say they offer increased salaries. 6 in 10 continue to offer flexibility in work arrangements, such as more compressed working hours, part time position and option to work from home. 6 in 10 have also increased investment in training and reskilling their staff and a similar proportion say they are offering improved employee benefits (voucher schemes / health covers/ sabbaticals etc). Scaleups also look at their overall social purpose and culture with a number seeking to become a BCorp or employee owned and others are looking to attain employer accreditations  in order to attract new employees and retain existing staff. Similar to last year, 1 in 5 are currently adopting or planning to adopt a 4 day working week.

Scaleups also attract international talent, with 39% employing staff from the EU and 33% employing staff from outside the EU. In last year’s survey, 4 in 10 scaleup leaders mentioned that the new fast track visa launched by the Government will be vital or very important to their business. However, one year on, only 1 in 10 are using or planning to use the visa and a deeper dive into attitudes reveal that the vast majority, 7 in 10, haven’t heard about it.

Scaleup Skills Needs

In 2023, when looking at the skills that employees are predicted to need by the World Economic Forum, people management and the ability to work well with others is the priority of majority scaleup leaders, mentioned by over half of the respondents. Following this, 4 in 10 are seeking critical thinking, decision making skills, as well as resilience and flexibility from their employees. To keep pace with scaleups’ desire to use modern technologies, 3 in 10 (34%) are also seeking individuals with the ability to work with and adapt to new technologies.

When scaleup leaders are asked about which digital skills they find most challenging to source, 4 in 10 prioritise skills in digital marketing and social media. 3 in 10 consider skills in programming inclusive of AI, machine learning, robotics and user experience to be key while recruiting. A similar proportion, 3 in 10, also find it challenging to recruit employees with data analytics and cyber security skills alongside general digital literacy skills such as use of standard off the shelf programmes and applications to support email and word processing.

While skills gaps are particularly prominent when recruiting a workforce with technological and digital skills, the challenge also emerges while hiring those with expertise in engineering and manufacturing. Often blended with specific sectoral or technical skills, scaleup leaders also report challenges in finding sales and marketing professionals, as well as those with broad business skills in areas such as leadership, operations, finance and project management.

Enhancing the skills pipeline and upskilling current teams

The education system has a critical role to play not only in equipping young people with the skills they need for the future but also in guiding career choices and supporting scaleups to develop the skills of their current workforce.

7 in 10 (66%) scaleups are seeking support to be able to offer work placements, traineeships and/or apprenticeships. Improving careers education also remain to critical with 64% of scaleups wanting students to be better informed about the opportunities that exist in scaling companies like theirs, there is a continued desire to see increased number of encounters with students (57%), enhancements made to the curriculum with better provision of entrepreneurial and leadership education (55%), and more vocational skills courses (47%). Alongside this scaleups also desire clearer accreditation of digital skills for young people (39%) from the education system.

With the government seeking to roll out Maths to students up to the age of 18, scaleups want young people to gain practical knowledge from this proposed plan. 7 in 10 say they want the extra teaching time to be used to give young people greater understanding of how maths is used in analysis and coding and alongside technologies like AI; while 5 in 10 want students to learn how business funding, investment and venture capital works. 

With respect to upskilling their teams, in-house training remains to be the most common resource scaleups utilise (80%) followed by working with mentors and coaches (66%). They also leverage private leadership or skills courses (53%) and off-the-shelf online courses (50%) . For more formal learning, 3 in 10 scaleups collaborate with universities to develop and deliver training / provide executive education courses to their employees and 1 in 5 work with FE colleges.