Gen Z wanted: Two thirds of SME businesses struggle to attract young workers to roles

30 June 2023 , 10:00
  • Over half (51 per cent) of small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) are concerned that the younger generation aren’t interested in working for them, according to Barclays research
  • Under a quarter (24 per cent) of first-time jobseekers would currently consider working for a small or medium sized business, despite benefits such as greater flexibility and developing a broader skillset
  • Barclays has partnered with ex-Apprentice finalist and business owner Bianca Miller-Cole1 to share her top tips for SMEs on how to land that entry-level talent

According to new research from Barclays, 66 per cent of UK small and medium-sized businesses are struggling to hire Gen Z workers – those under the age of 252. The majority (51 per cent) are also worried that the younger generation simply isn’t interested in working for a SME.

It’s also clear that competitive salaries are a key concern for SMEs as more than a third (38 per cent) now worry that the younger generation believes that larger businesses can offer them better salaries and other job perks. This is reflected by just under a quarter (24 per cent) of first-time jobseekers currently considering working for a small or medium sized business 3.

This suggests a need for businesses to find more cost-effective ways to attract Gen Z talent and highlight all that they have to offer. In response, Barclays has teamed up with ex- Apprentice finalist and entrepreneur Bianca Miller-Cole, to provide SMEs with some top tips to consider when recruiting the next generation into the workforce, to help make them an enticing opportunity for career progression.

Championing SMEs for entry-level recruitment

Businesses surveyed argued that they could provide greater flexibility in working patterns (39 per cent) such as remote or hybrid working options (32 percent). This corresponds with nearly a third (31 per cent) of first-time jobseekers highlighting the ability to work flexibly as a key factor when looking for their first job role. 

Small and medium-sized businesses were also concerned that young people were more likely to be attracted to working for bigger businesses because they believed them to offer better career progression (36 per cent) and more recognition among friends and family (27 per cent).

Yet, SMEs are positive they could offer entry-level workers the ability to make a significant impact on the direction of the business (30 per cent) and the development of a broader skillset (28 per cent) when it comes to career trajectory. SMEs are also eager to do more in order to attract the younger generation to roles within their business, with more than two in five (41 per cent) investing in their local communities, such as by partnering with schools and colleges in the local area.

Hannah Bernard, Head of Business Banking, Barclays said: “We know recruitment is a challenge for small and medium sized businesses up and down the UK and the last few years has brought with it a large shift in how we all view the world of work. It’s therefore unsurprising that entry-level workers or Gen Z are being extremely transparent about what they are looking for from their first job role, providing businesses with a great opportunity to adapt.

“SMEs have a critical role to play in local communities, enabling the next generation to harness a broad skillset and further career opportunities for progression. As the cornerstone of the UK economy, it’s important we recognise and highlight the fantastic opportunities available within these types of businesses as well as the need to adopt a slightly different approach to recruitment, in order to engage top tier talent for junior roles.”

Bianca Miller-Cole, ex-Apprentice finalist and entrepreneur said: “As a small business owner myself, I know first-hand that it’s tough out there – the fight for talent is real. Many SMEs are struggling to recruit new Gen Z employees, so it’s important to help highlight what is going to help secure entry-level candidates that may be able to fill a role within a SME.

“I am passionate about providing business owners with the tools they need to stand out when it comes to recruitment for young talent and ultimately, believe this will help to future proof SMEs for years to come.”

Top tips for SMEs looking to recruit the next generation: Bianca Miller-Cole  


Empower their growth: Make sure you’re advertising more than just a job role  – at entry level it’s crucial to demonstrate there is a career path. First-time jobseekers want to understand that there’s going to be ample training and support available to them.


Embrace their values: It’s clear the next generation is passionate about brand values and the same goes for the companies they consider working for. Whether that includes the purpose of a business or what social pursuits are on offer – make it known what these are and what’s available. As a SME, these are your unique selling points!


Work/life balance: A job and extra-curricular pursuits of an employee don’t have to be in competition with one another. As the work/life balance debate continues to change and evolve, remember that not everyone will want to work remotely, or in the office. Where possible, give candidates the opportunity to shape their own working patterns.


Modernise your recruitment process: Gen Z is a digital-first generation, so it might be time to revamp your recruitment process. Leverage social media platforms to reach out to potential candidates.

Mark Fuller, CEO, Sanctum Hotel said: “We have certainly been challenged like many other SMEs by the current landscape and economic climate when it comes to hospitality recruitment for entry-level roles. One of the ways we have been able to secure top talent is to really advertise that career trajectory for the role and bring to life our brand at the interview stage. We are very clear on the type of hotel we are and what we offer and bringing that same ethos and our values to the table for candidates has been very well received! I’ve always said that a career in a hospitality business is incredibly exciting and always evolving – and more than ever, I believe that to be true!”

1  You can find more about Bianca Miller-Cole and her business here

2 Research conducted by Censuswide of 513 18+ SME decision makers working in companies with £2m-£25m turnover from 24 May 2023 – 5 June 2023.

3 Research conducted by Censuswide of 1,000 respondents who are entering the workforce for the first time (recent graduates as well as school leavers), from 24 May 2023 – 31 May 2023.