Recruiting talent remains the biggest challenge for North East business leaders, a new Entrepreneurs’ Forum survey has revealed.

Over 100 North East entrepreneurs responded to the survey – approximately a third of the Forum’s membership – which revealed that while recruitment is harder now than it was pre-pandemic, the number of vacancies has increased per business.

Entrepreneurs’ Forum members comprise leading North East entrepreneurs who collectively turnover in excess of £1.25 billion.

72% of respondents said recruitment is now harder than pre-pandemic while 25% reported no change and 3% stated recruitment is now easier.

Meanwhile, 79% of the respondents currently are advertising job vacancies, 19% have ten or more open positions and 4% have 50 or more vacancies. Businesses reporting ten or more vacancies included sectors such as IT, hospitality, engineering and retail.

Across the 101 responses, there’s expected to be 1,751 jobs created in the next 12 months. 9% of respondents expect to create 50 or more jobs, 28% expect to create ten or more and 61% expect to create five jobs or less.

Elaine Stroud, CEO of the Entrepreneurs’ Forum, said: “Despite the perceived lack of labour, it’s encouraging to see that Forum members have a lot of confidence and hope for the future, with many of them planning on creating a huge number of new jobs over the next 12 months.

“Regardless of their current vacancy situation, it was clear from the responses that virtually all of our members are taking steps to attract more potential employees. A common change being made by businesses is the introduction or continuation of ‘flexible’ working. However, this seems to be a new norm rather than something that makes businesses stand out to applicants.”

40% of respondents said they had increased their pay and benefits packages to incentivise applicants whilst 25% said they had turned to external agencies, including specialist recruiters.

The majority of respondents said they had turned their focus to improving their brand as an employer. Steps businesses are taking include concerted efforts to improve their precedence on social media, setting up employee wellbeing frameworks, investing in staff development and refining their “pitch” to potential employees.

Brendon Hayward, Entrepreneurs’ Forum Board member and joint Managing Director of Northumberland-based OSBIT, sees opportunity in the changing employment market.

He commented: “The changes in the labour market are the most exciting transition ever. People now seek a clearer purpose, evidence of a competent management team and vision, an authentic culture, clear development opportunities, coaching, remunerative development, ESG credentials and the list goes on.

“The power balance which many business leaders may have viewed through a relatively static lens has truly been upended. The most innovative companies will evolve and capitalise on this, companies who do not recognise their labour market lens is obsolete will find it extremely difficult.”