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Published: 04/09/2018

Nearly four out of five businesses in the Highlands and Islands have highlighted the importance of employing and retaining young people and are taking steps to address the challenges of doing so.

Our latest Business Panel survey interviewed 1,000 businesses in June this year.

Recruiting young people was viewed as important by 79% of them; more so with firms of 25 or more employees. Young people are defined as employees in the early stages of their career. The top benefits of having them on board were given as fresh perspective (79%), potential for development (68%), ability to replace lost skills (59%), and acquisition of new skills (56%).

The main characteristics looked for in young talent were attitude and work ethic (88%), communication skills (77%), desire to keep learning (77%), and time management (76%).

Nearly half (48%) of respondents had recruited or tried to recruit young talent in the past two years. The main challenges they faced were finding candidates with the required skills and the right attitude and work ethic.

Around a quarter had used modern apprenticeships and a fifth had used graduate placement programmes. Most of those hoped to retain and develop their apprentice or graduate.

Most firms (60%) that employed young people found it easy to retain them. The 38% who did find it challenging, highlighted the main issues as a tendency to move on after being trained, and the need for employers to be able to offer competitive salaries and career progression. Location, accommodation, employment for partners and childcare were also seen as challenges, particularly in the more rural areas.

Steps being taken by employers to retain younger employees include training (83%), offering competitive pay (79%), providing mentoring and feedback (73%), offering flexible working (66%), and progression opportunities (65%).

The study also reported that 81% of businesses are very or fairly optimistic about their prospects, with 40% expecting growth in the next year or two. As in previous surveys, the single market and free movement of people were viewed by respondents as more important to the economy overall than to their own businesses.

Almost all respondents (92%) were confident they have the skills they need for the next two years, but were less certain about the longer term.

Carroll Buxton, HIE’s director of regional development, said:

“With this being the Year of Young People, we have taken the opportunity in our survey to explore some of the main issues around the importance of young people to the region’s workforce. From the feedback, it is clear that many employers recognise the benefits associated with having young people as part of their team and are taking steps to secure those benefits for their own business.

“This feedback has been very useful in highlighting, not only the benefits, but the challenges of recruiting and retaining younger employees. These are things we are helping many firms with and that will inform the work we and other organisations are doing in attracting young talent to the region.”

The report on the HIE Business Panel Survey is available at:

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