Finding and retaining staff stunting growth, survey of St Albans businesses finds

St Albans Business Festival 2015

St Albans Business Festival 2015 - Credit: Archant

The difficulties in finding and retaining staff is the number one barrier to growing a business in St Albans, a survey has found.

A survey of 136 businesses in the district by City of Expertise - a collaboration of 22 professional service companies - found the skilled staff shortage was the top concern, beating political uncertainty into second place and red tape into third.

St Albans Chamber of Commerce president Alastair Woodgate said: “St Albans has a really vibrant and growing business community and the more we understand about the barriers that may prevent business reaching its potential, the better we will be equipped to help find solutions.

“The City of Expertise is not only a really refreshing approach to problem solving, but a great way of making sure growth continues.”

The sector with the biggest recruitment problem was professional services, with 20 per cent of companies citing it as a problem.

19 per cent of firms in the construction and engineering and sales and marketing also raised concerns.

One respondent said: “It’s very hard to persuade graduates to work in St Albans rather than London”, and another said: “If St Albans could raise its profile as a great place to live and work with easy access in to London in the evenings... it would help a lot.”

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A third respondent commented: “Inability to recruit is the single impediment to growth. We pay well above the minimum wage per hour. We just cannot recruit.”

The fourth greatest barrier to growing a business in the district, according to the respondents, was workspace rent and availability.

Respondents said: “Rates and property rents are always up year-on-year never down”, “office space with parking nearby is crucial to business growth in St Albans”, and “I would love to move my business back to St Albans, but rent is a big issue”.

In response to this concern, this year St Albans council has been granted powers to stop offices being turned into homes, thus increasing the city’s supply of commercial spaces.

St Albans Business Improvement District (BID) manger Helen Burridge said: “The City of Expertise survey certainly chimes with what our professional services are telling us about their concerns.

“Our businesses are recognising the draw of London to potential staff and are working hard to offer a more attractive benefits package to appeal on a number of levels.

“Thameslink is of course making St Albans more appealing by the day, sadly, too!

“St Albans BID is working with businesses to bring together a range of direct-to-staff benefits in transport, food and beverage and retail discounts to be launched in the autumn.

“We are also working across the business community to promote the benefits of offering flexible working, supporting parents back into the workplace, working with apprentices and mindfulness in the workplace.

“St Albans is a vibrant and dynamic city to work in the professional services and we continue to promote its benefits in a range of ways so that staff and businesses can contribute to a positive city-centre ecosystem.”

The other barriers to growth identified in the survey were lack of specific expertise, cash flow and technological limitations.

Another recent City of Expertise study found 80 per cent of St Albans businesses plan to grow dramatically or moderately over the next two years.

Oaklands College director of student experience Sean Scully said: “Our college ethos is to give students the skills they need to ‘take on the world’ after college and employers play a huge part in enabling that to happen. With our students completing over 100,000 hours of work experience per year and a big focus on apprenticeships we work hard to cherish and nurture relationships with the business community.

“Oaklands College host a number of events through the year to engage, inform and empower employers to recruit skilled employees and upskill their existing workforce.

“Our series of apprenticeship breakfasts and recent business breakfast focusing on the new T-Levels [technical vocational qualifications] and extended work experience hours are ways in which we give employers the edge in welcoming the next generation into their businesses.”

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