Why is the West Midlands a great place to start and run a business?

Opportunity... The Midlands is at the heart of everything and I'm not talking geographically. Whether it be UK manufacturing and advanced engineering or life sciences and alternative fuels, the Midlands has become a haven for world class businesses and professionals. Whether FTSE 100 companies like HSBC or one of the many tech start-ups that resulted in Birmingham being named the third best tech destination in the country by the CBRE, there is so much growth, support, investment, and demand for both B2B and B2C goods and services, that the area has become a hive of activity and potential.

Unfortunately London is the be-all and end-all for many people when they think of business in the UK, but it had the highest death rate at 12.1% according to the ONS. Savvy entrepreneurs with a great idea can make really work in the West Midlands, while avoiding the huge start-up costs needed in the Capital to launch and keep their head above water. That's why Birmingham was the UK's regional start-up capital for a seventh year running, with 18,394 new enterprises starting life in the city throughout 2020. 

How would you describe the talent pool in the West Midlands?

The West Midlands punches above its weight when it comes the calibre of people located here, especially in regards STEM talent. That's because we have nine world-class higher education institutions, four of which are ranked among the best globally, but also have the largest concentration of degree educated individuals outside of London. Furthermore the West Midlands has more students in all core subjects than any other Combined Authority and more graduates each year in all subjects. The region is a melting pot of cultures and therefore a centre for creativity and innovation. However we have huge issues with unemployment and inclusion that urgently need to be tackled. The solution is creating pathways into the growing number of professional jobs in the city but that requires investment in skills infrastructure which the council are in no position to act on.

What are the challenges businesses in the West Midlands face when it comes to HR?

Birmingham has one of the retention rates of graduates staying in the region once leaving university, which means more businesses are competing to attract people from this talent pool, which in turn creates more demand for skilled employees. The problem is compounded by a lack of clear pathways to promotion or support with progression which means employees start looking elsewhere for work because they don't feel valued. Also employers are struggling to hire or even develop within their own business, people with critical thinking and problem-solving skill, commercial awareness or even a thorough understanding of an industry they work in.

You're an advocate of "employee engagement" for business success? Why is it so important?

Where do I begin? Your people are your competitive advantage in business because without them you don't have one. That's why you have to keep employees emotionally and professionally engaged in their work, because the more invested they are, the better their performance will be. I've seen reports suggesting it can make a difference to your turnover by as much as 43%. Equally importantly, the less likelihood they are going to take their brilliance to one of your competitors! It's a no brainer and also simple to implement. It's one of HR's most powerful tools of the trade and what every business should be doing.

What are the easiest and most cost-effective measures you would recommend a business undertake to secure the benefits of employee engagement quickly? 

Treat people as you would want to be treated yourself. Be honest, say "thank you" every day, reward good work, ask staff for their opinions and encourage initiative. Also always be fair when giving feedback, being sure to communicate the good as well as the bad. These are the most basic of things but amazingly are overlooked too often, which eventually leads to employee negativity and unfortunately business disruption. It's not want you want in a difficult economic environment.

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