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Unlocking global growth: how to avoid the skills gap when scaling up

by Roheela Khan, Recruitment Operations Director at global talent firm Martin Veasey Talent Solutions

Orders flooding in from around the world might be a dream scenario for a fledgling ecommerce business. But the downside is finding the capabilities to fulfil the associated impact on everything from sales, marketing and logistics, through to HR and business development . After all, while market demand may drive sales, rapid growth requires deliberate planning and preparing – especially during the current talent shortage. So how can growing ecommerce businesses scale up without feeling the brunt of the skills gap?

Fast-growth companies – scale-ups – are a vital part of any economy. After all, while dynamic startups may be crucial for pushing industries forward through innovation – usually with just a handful of employees – and larger organisations may have their own established share, it is the scale-ups who are key to driving growth and creating new jobs.

But while scale-ups may hold the key to turbocharging the UK’s economy, the reality is that managing the dynamics of rapid growth can be a huge challenge. Of course, it involves significantly increasing your head count. But more than that, it will also probably mean investing in different skillsets to what you already have too. For instance, if you’re an online retailer experiencing vast growth you may not only want to boost your customer service, warehouse and logistics capabilities, but fill new roles in business development and finance. Adding a new layer of complexity, scaling on a global level will also involve supplementing your existing teams with people across different countries, continents and time zones.

At the same time, the UK – as with many other parts of the world – faces a widening skills gap, especially in the digital space. The result is that fast-growth online businesses face not just finding the right people but attracting and retaining them amid an increasingly competitive talent pool. But how? 

Analyse and understand

It may sound obvious, but to begin with it’s important to really understand the challenges unique to your organisation. One of the biggest mistakes a scale-up can make is to rush into a hiring frenzy prematurely without having a solid headcount strategy in place. 

Instead, take the time to delve under the skin of your developing business. What are your short, and long-term goals? What should the next six months look like? How quickly do you need to scale? Do you need to hire lots of people, fast or would it be better to make some strategic hires?

Once you have a clear roadmap of your strategic goals, who you need to support you in getting there should become a lot clearer. 

Prepare your employee brand

Most scale-ups aren’t well-known enough to be a place where people aspire to work. This means that unless you want to run the risk of losing out on that brilliant SEO expert you were hoping to nab to a more established company, you will need to actively sell your company, the position and the culture to your candidates to compel them to join the team. 

One of the most effective ways to do this is to build your employee brand. More than ever, in today’s post-pandemic world employees want to work for a business where they feel valued and heard, where their individual needs are taken on board, and where they feel passionate about the company’s vision and their ability to contribute to making it happen. 

Use this to your advantage. Explain that your employees are your most valuable asset and a top priority. Think about the benefits you can offer to your employees. Flexible hours and work-from-home options can be a great selling point, especially for candidates with young children. Equally, a good pension package, private health insurance and extra holidays will also go a long way for most jobseekers. 

The more time you spend on presenting your company in the best possible light, the more likely each candidate will convert at the top of the hiring funnel.

Invest in strategic hires

Understandably, scale-ups may be inclined to promote a founding team member to a key executive level role, say VP of Operations or Head of Strategy, because they have been there from day dot.

This isn’t necessarily always the right course of action. Yes, founding members should all play an active role in keeping the overall company goals and vision in sight. But that is not to say that they have the right level of skill set for more strategic leadership.

From our experience, a much more effective approach is to make a ‘strategic hire’. This will usually involve headhunting a talented candidate with the bags of relevant experience and ability needed to elevate your company and help lead your teams to achieve your growth goals faster. 

Give it time and headspace

Even though it might prove challenging in the midst of fast growth, it’s important to dedicate time and headspace to the hiring process. Of course, your recruitment partner will play a huge role in helping you access the best talent and even help inform some of your decisions. Still, the reality is that only you can know who is the best fit for your company. And in the early stages of growth, every single new hire can make a significant impact on your business’ future and culture. If it helps, consider that Steve Jobs partook in more than 5,000 interviews during this career because he took finding the right people so seriously. 

Scale-up smoother

Ultimately, Rome wasn’t built in a day and finding and attracting the right talent and people to underscore your growth trajectory won’t happen overnight. However, by paying due diligence to your recruitment strategy ahead of time with careful planning, preparation and dedicated expertise, it’s possible to scale up much smoother. 

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