No brand name, no problem: How SMEs can compete for talent through career development

Find out how SMEs can compete for talent and boost retention by investing in career development plans for both their current and prospective employees.

17 Jan 2023 Articles Recruitment Best practices Human capital partnership

Nowadays, it is not enough to have a job that pays well.

In particular, the younger generation of talent1 are increasingly drawn to companies that make them feel valued and have a plan to develop them, on top of monetary compensation.

This is the reality that SMEs, who already struggle to attract people to their companies, have to face. According to a World Economic Forum report2, the top challenge that they encounter is talent acquisition and retention, ahead of other hurdles like expansion and funding.

Here are some ways that SMEs can tap its competitive advantage to compete for talent by creating a strong employee value proposition (EVP) through career development.

Create Customised Career Paths

Having a flatter organisational structure with fewer layers compared to MNCs is common in SMEs and they should capitalise on this to customise career paths to the individual. A good career plan should focus on both an employee’s personal and professional growth3

One way is to embrace career lattices4. Unlike traditional career ladders, which are linear and strictly about vertical progression such as promotions, career lattices are a more flexible plan to support lateral progression and employee development in multiple directions.

This can mean allowing employees to transit into a different role or portfolio. For instance, Atlas Sound & Vision5, a local SME that sells premium audio and visual products, actively encourages its staff to take on other roles. One of its Sales Advocates has become a Corporate Partnership Manager, while a Customer Relations Officer has moved into marketing.

The flexible nature of career lattices not only allows companies to better retain employees, but also incentivises them to take the initiative to chart their own career pathways.

Tailor Training and Development Initiatives

Similarly, being smaller also enables smaller companies to better identify skills gaps among employees and tailor training programmes to their specific needs.

SMEs can invest in internal and external training programmes to equip employees with relevant future skill sets, including digital fluency, critical thinking, communication and collaboration, and adaptability.

Nexia TS, an accounting firm in Singapore, is an example of how being small enables a company to be nimbler in staff training. For instance, it has a system in place to collect regular feedback from employees on the specific areas or skill sets they are interested in developing to support their career goals. It also offers on-the-job training for senior staff to work closely with their juniors to identify their strengths and weaknesses, as well as areas for improvement.

Deploy a Range of Programmes to Support Career Development

This can include

  • Job shadowing or personalised mentoring by experienced co-workers and managers.
  • Cross-training exercises to train employees in responsibilities outside of their usual job scope to fill competency gaps in an organisation.
  • Stretch assignments – a hands-on approach that involves assigning employees a challenging project beyond their current capabilities to push their professional limits. 

By prioritising employee development, SMEs can successfully create a great EVP and give themselves a tactical advantage in today’s war of talent.



[1] The Key to Retaining Young Workers? Better Onboarding (2022).
[2] Future Readiness of SMEs: Mobilizing the SME Sector to Drive Widespread Sustainability and Prosperity (2021).
[3][5] 4 Ways Singapore SMEs Can Attract and Retain Employees (2022).
[4] Career Ladders vs. Career Lattices - Tools for Employee Development (2019).