SMEs need different approach to their HR, says Tracey Hopkins from Yorkshire HR and employment law firm Howarths

Small businesses in Yorkshire need to adopt more professional human resources (HR) practices to help stem the brain drain, according to a HR and employment law firm.

Making the journey: Effective HR doesnt have to be complicated or expensive, says Tracey Hopkins. Picture: Tony Johnson

Tracey Hopkins, finance and operations director at HR and employment law firm Howarths, believes small firms need to better communicate their vision and goals to employees to stop them seeking the bright lights of London.

She told The Yorkshire Post: “Working with over 600 SMEs within Yorkshire over the last decade and more, our experience is that profession of HR within SMEs is typically quite informal.

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“There’s no dedicated human resource professional and there’s not always that much of a structure in place. Often you don’t get a business starting to look at HR strategy until they get to 90-100 employees.

“In our opinion the sooner SMEs realise the true value of HR and introduce that into the business at board level, the better the business will be. Businesses are missing out on a trick because it can really enhance performance.”

The reason small firms are not adopting formal HR structures is because of the perception of the practice.

Ms Hopkins said: “In order for SMEs to compete with this so-called brain drain and make sure we’re attracting and attaining talent in our area, we need to change the perception of HR within SMEs.

“SMEs can’t always compete on financial packages with the bigger organisations out there but there are certainly a lot of smaller steps we can take to make the proposition to potential recruits equally as attractive.”

Small firms don’t need big budgets for effective HR, according to Ms Hopkins.

“Effective HR doesn’t have to be complicated, nor does it have to be expensive,” she said.

“It’s things like having a clear vision and values and communicating that throughout the work environment so everybody within the organisation understands the journey that they are all on together.

“They understand what the end goal is and everybody is pulling in the right direction.

“Employees want to feel a part of something.”

Cleckheaton-based Howarths has partnered with The University of Huddersfield to deliver results of a research project designed to identify the steps small firms need to take to prevent the brain drain.

The event will explore findings from the university’s SMEs HRM Attraction, Retention and Performance Network (SHARPEN) study – a three-year research project funded by the Erasmus Strategic Partnerships for Higher Education Projects.

The project seeks ways to make SMEs better places to work, in order to help recruit and retain top quality staff with the aim of boosting regional economies in the North of England and reducing the migration of highly trained and qualified staff to London and the South East.

Professor Julie Davis, research and enterprise subject group leader at the University of Huddersfield, said: “Big urban centres attract new graduates and talents initially but many move back later on to work at smaller firms.”

Many of those moving back to their local area are seeking flexible work opportunities.

“Where there are real skills shortages the companies have to be flexible,” the research and enterprise subject group leader said.

She added: “Small businesses are the backbone of the local economy and we can’t ignore them. Universities and professional bodies should be working to help professionalise HR.”

Sharpening up with HR event

The SMEs HRM Attraction, Retention and Performance Network (SHARPEN) study will be presented at an event next week.

Gavin Howarth, managing director at Howarths, said: “Ensuring that SMEs across Yorkshire are aware and have a clear understanding of the prominent HR challenges they need to address around employee recruitment, engagement and organisational development is key to retaining a strong talent pool in Yorkshire and across the North of England.”

The event will take place on June 5 at Huddersfield Business School.