Top Concern For 58% of SMEs Facing Workforce Challenges

  • Challenges in talent acquisition, cost management, and ESG reporting emerge as the three top hurdles for SMEs in 2024.  

New research from the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) highlights the pressing challenges and strategic innovation opportunities for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).  

The study, SMEs: Business challenges and strategic innovation opportunities,reveals three main challenges: escalating costs, workforce and talent management, and the evolving ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) reporting agenda. 

Fazeela Gopalani, Head of ACCA Middle East, said: “As we enter the new year, SMEs are grappling with a wide spectrum of issues. The inflation challenge has been a truly global phenomenon, as central banks raced to control inflation initiating some of the most restrictive monetary policies across the world seen in recent times.” 

“Our research also suggests that SMEs continue to struggle to both acquire and retain key talent, as well as continuing to face significant wage pressure and pay demands within their organisations. Upskilling is also a critical area of focus as technological change speeds up. By addressing these challenges head-on, SMEs can unlock new growth avenues and strengthen their market position,” Gopalani added. 

The report emphasises the need for tailored strategies that can help SMEs navigate the evolving business landscape successfully, including embracing innovation, optimising resource management, and staying ahead of regulatory changes. 

Key findings include: 

  • Cost pressures and the economy: SMEs face significant increases in utility prices and supplies, with 58% of businesses highlighting higher costs as their top concern.  

  • Workforce and talent management: The study reveals a notable rise in job vacancies and challenges in filling specific roles. Increased job vacancies for professional workers were reported by 31% of businesses, and 14% were unable to find suitable candidates for clerical workers, technicians, and service and sales workers.  

  • SMEs and the ESG agenda: Nearly 50% of SMEs are now required to provide ESG information, highlighting the growing importance of sustainable practices. However, the report identifies a gap in the ability to generate and manage this data, presenting both a challenge and an opportunity for SMEs. 

“As risk proliferates, there is a wealth of new and emerging regulation impacting businesses, most obviously in the area of ESG. Regulation and reporting requirements will continue to evolve fast in this area, and SMEs need to be future ready to accommodate increasing demands,” says Gopalani. “In these testing times, SMEs must pivot towards innovative strategies to navigate the complexities of cost pressures, talent retention, and sustainable practices. Our research not only identifies the critical hurdles but also offers a roadmap for SMEs to emerge stronger and more agile.”  

The roadmap recommends the adoption of digital technologies, enabling SMEs to streamline operations, reduce costs, and enhance productivity. It also emphasises the importance of embracing sustainable practices, not only as a regulatory compliance measure but also as a strategic move to attract new business and customers.  

It also encourages SMEs to develop and retain top talent through continuous learning and development opportunities.


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