Small Could Be the Next Big Thing; SMEs -- or Small and Medium Sized Enterprises -- Are Likely to Provide Most of the Jobs Growth the Government Is Banking on at a Time of Mass Public Sector Job Losses. Linda Whitney Explores the Options for Jobseekers

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Byline: Linda Whitney

THE finance sector -- the first into the economic downturn -- was also one of the first to recover, as has been seen in a sharp increase in City recruitment. However, there is another recruitment sector that also tends to lead the way in terms of jobs growth once the economy starts to recover -- it just has a much lower profile.

"Small firms are always the first to start taking on staff after a recession," says Stephen Alambritis from the Federation of Small Businesses. "If they get a new contract they need more people immediately."

It means that jobseekers who fail to target smaller businesses could be missing opportunities -- and there are likely to be many. SMEs in the South-East are planning to create an average of five additional full-time jobs -- and four new part-time jobs -- over the next year, according to a Barclays Business study into the impact and outlook for SMEs by region.

In London 73 per cent of SMEs are also seeking to grow. A strong indication of the health of this sector is the fact that nearly four in 10 -- 39 per cent of those surveyed -- are set to employ graduates either full or part-time, which shows that many are prepared to invest in developing their own talent. Three in 10 of these new graduate jobs are expected to be in business and professional services, a fifth in retail and over one in 10 in technology and IT.

There's more to SMEs than the takeaway on the corner and the hairdresser over the road. Many of the highest-paying in London are in the professions -- legal and accounting -- as well as business services. They make up a startling 99.9 per cent of the UK's 4.8 million private sector enterprises according to the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and employ 23.1 million people -- six in 10 private sector employees. Dr Tom Wainwright, of the Kingston University Small Business Research Centre, who co-authored the Barclays Business study, says: "Candidates should recognise the private sector is SMEs. Big businesses are exceptions."

Working for a small organisation has its advantages. In a smaller company there is more chance to shine, and bright sparks can get into management or move up the career ladder more quickly. David Richardson, of the Corporate Traveller, a corporate travel services provider based in New Malden, Surrey, says: "We look for candidates who are capable of moving into senior management within two years. In bigger companies there may be no clear path to real influence but here there are relatively few steps on the ladder to the top."

The company, which employs under 250 people and has offices in Wimbledon, Clerkenwell, Farringdon and Crawley, is expecting high levels of growth between now and 2014 as other companies outsource corporate travel arrangements. It expects to take on more business development staff, client relationship managers and account managers.

Another advantage of targeting smaller firms when job-hunting is that small companies often move faster to recruit staff -- so candidates do not have to wait weeks to find out of they have got an interview or a job.

Tessa Buckman, of recruitment specialist Employment Office, in New Malden, Surrey, says: "SMEs provide fantastic opportunities for jobseekers, because they are hungry for growth and can be far faster in hiring than bigger companies. When our SME clients are introduced to exceptional talent they do not hesitate. We recently ran a sales assessment day for a fastgrowing London company. Out of the eight shortlisted candidates, four were offered a position the next day."

SMEs also typically offer the chance to work closely with a small team, so employees each have a higher profile. Responsibility often comes faster than in a bigger organisation. Steve Dakin, of Pinesoft, a Holborn-based bespoke software development house, says: "We look for recruits who have the capacity to work with a small team and are also able to understand clients' needs, as they will be dealing directly with clients within two weeks of starting here. …

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