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May 4, 2011 / Alex Robertson

SMEs will benefit from acting as a Springboard for new talent

I’ve worked in a variety of organisations over the last 10 years. From tyrannical hotel dictatorships through to supervisor enforced skiving for my local council (Hartlepool) while I was meant to be cutting grass (this was of course to increase the overtime we had to do!), social media startups, the Third Sector and lots of bits in between!

In particular I’m interested in the way SME and larger organisations recruit young people or “talent” as we sometimes call it. After 13 months successfully running an advertising company in a recession, my rejection by multiple graduate schemes in my final year studying (here’s looking at you Microsoft, Dell, Coca-cola) because of one bad A-level made it clear to me that the route to the top for a young person is through small business.

I feel that there are two main types of business that bring in talent. I call them Foundations and Springboards. Lets quickly look at Foundations first but I really want to speak about the idea of Springboards.


These are larger company’s where people can be secure, find community and a career. There will be structured training available, advancement over the years. It’s a secure job where there is a structured management system, a fixed salary which grows based on advancement. There is opportunity but it comes over time. There is probably a fairly large team and a great community feel. A well managed foundation company is something that nurtures and creates talent but also keeps  it held close to its chest. They probably have less flexibility but bigger budgets. A great opportunity to get involved in a big team doing something exciting.

Advantages – Loyalty, steady staff numbers, less surprises (?), regular holiday times, good community, stability. conservation of talent.

Disadvantages – “9-5 staff”, Just a job?, lack of ambition sets in?  Missed opportunities? Bitterness if missed for promotion? Sudden losses?


This is the main point of this blog.  I believe Springboards are companies that are trying to push into areas unknown, maybe a start-up, third sector organisation struggling to find funding or a small company taking a risk and trying something new. In my experience some of these companies will try to:

A) Recruit as if  they are a foundation (IE long term offer a salary and terms they can’t afford or possibly quantify for the future)

B) Don’t recruit at all (worse than option A!)

If they recognise what they are trying to achieve and the type of person they are going to need to do it maybe they’ll think again and push themselves out as a springboard for a new generation of thinkers and doers. I believe that sometimes people are looking for the next challenge, the next passion, the next thing to get wholeheartedly stuck into.

The employee that the springboard companies are looking for do not need (or look for) the big pay cheque, the job security or the company car. What they need is trust, some training opportunities, a listening ear and above all a great idea to get behind, grow and work with!

I genuinely believe that this sort of initially short-term project based opportunity will drive someone far more than a few more days off or a longer lunch break. In return for being given a chance (and maybe even a limited time scale) they will often throw themselves into something with more passion and hard work than you could ever expect. If it doesn’t work then at least both parties have probably learnt a huge amount without anyone being disappointed or in a bind about having to fire a staff member. the main thing here is that Springboards need to not have qualms about losing that talent after the allotted time. You need to set it free! At least you’ve gained a new programme/advocate/income for your business, and also probably gained a friend!

Advantages : Possibility of a fantastic new revenue stream, possible eventual full-time new team member, someone to learn from and to teach, someone who will be a great advocate for your business even if you have to let them go if project doesn’t take off, someone to invigorate a static company profile.

Disadvantages : Theres some risk involved. If it doesn’t work out then you might lose someone you would love to keep! Possible fear of being replaced by current team members. Possibly lose some real talent to the next company if you can’t afford to keep them.

Final thoughts

I know this isn’t for everyone and it is a whole lot of information to hit you with – but I genuinely believe that the current generation of workers would love nothing more than to, just sometimes, have the opportunity to try new things, bring new ideas to the table and really try to make a difference to a company. Failure is only bad if you don’t learn from it and if you’re honest about the two possible outcomes (success/no success) from the start,  it’s a learning opportunity for all involved.

What does this mean for companies – Trying to put too much onto your existing staff members can create several problems instead of new opportunities. Work can be spread using keen interns or temporary spring-board staff members. Why not bring a great freelancer on board for a short amount of time while they’re quiet elsewhere? If the ideas interesting enough they’ll almost certainly do the job for a reduced price!

What does this mean for employers – You have to meet more people at interview and get to know them rather than just asking technical questions, head hunt them, court people you find interesting. Never say never just because the money isn’t going to compete. Maybe you’re exactly what they’re looking for! Next time you’re looking to build a new website/database/marketing strategy/social media strategy don’t go rushing to an agency – why not look to your linkedin, your twitter stream and your local networking events.

What does this mean for job hunters – make it clear from your CV that you’re in for exciting projects. Tell them about you, your interests and not just your technical ability. Also make it clear that you can succeed and that you can bring passion and commitment. It’s not all about ideas!  Finally GET YOURSELF OUT THERE. I have got most of my exciting and most fun roles through knowing someone who said “oh you know…. I saw this and thought of you”. Network, tweet or facebook. Whatever works for you!

What does this mean for everyone? Loyalty and trust are hugely important. I believe the Gentleman’s (Gentlewoman’s) agreement is a valid concept. Lets do business face to face and really mean it! Let’s trust our guts and our talent!

I really hope this hits a chord with some people.

I’d love to discuss it more in the comments or on my twitter @AlexDRobertson



Leave a Comment
  1. Alan Clark / May 5 2011 12:16 pm

    I do tend to agree that SME’s can benefit from young people participating. I also believe that it is important that young people aren’t tokenised. I myself am a director of a SME, ours is a not for profit social club so the opportunities for young people to become engaged are very limited. Im also vice-chair on the board of trustees at the local community centre where we train young people with the essential skills to move on in life, particualrly those from areas with a high rate of social deprivation and poverty in Hartlepool.

    All organisations whether they be statutory or voluntary can benefit by acting as a springboard for the talents of young people right across the UK. The big problem is most companies are set in their ways and just dont realise it!

    • Alex Robertson / May 5 2011 12:22 pm

      Great example Alan. Sometimes you have to be in the right place to find the people to be your Talent. It would be interesting to look at how to get more young people involved at the training/board level

  2. Kelly Forbes / May 5 2011 12:52 pm

    This post is a bit scary for me as I cant place my employer in either category…Is there a third option?

    • Alex Robertson / May 5 2011 12:57 pm

      This is something that I really struggled with from the initial concept. I felt that there is a clear difference. between SME and say a large bank which is probably more akin to a “Foundation” but struggled to fit in another category. Something like a well defined agency that is something inbetween. I suppose I was aiming this at start ups and multi level businesses rather than businesses focussing on just one thing… Although I’m fairly sure this reply makes little sense!

      Perhaps there does need to be a third alternative. Shall think on this and reblog!

  3. 拓羅寿 / May 5 2011 12:54 pm

    Whilst I, as a soon-to-be graduate have arguably a vested interest in promoting the idea of SMEs acting as springboard companies, for people such as myself, I do genuinely believe they have the potential to work with employees towards something mutually beneficial.

    The short-term project idea is particularly interesting, and potentially very beneficial. When searching for jobs they are something one comes across quite frequently, but more often than not they are unpaid intern positions. With a financial incentive comes, I feel, more professional drive and ultimately better results for both employer and employee.

    We who are about to graduate, or who have recently graduated, feel sometimes that we are engaged in futile competition with slightly older people with much more experience who have, as a result of the current economic climate, found themselves without a job. If then a company were to give us an opportunity then we would I think value it all the more, and seek to gain as much as possible from the experience. I have a friend who recently graduated with a 1st in Engineering, and he currently works in Lush. He would surely welcome such an opportunity.

  4. Alex Robertson / May 5 2011 1:03 pm

    Would you feel that if : an “internship” was offered, v.minimal salary. Billed as a chance to have a go at something that is going to take a lot of work, a lot of commitment but may turn into an awesome full time job if you can define yourself within the role.
    Would you be inclined to go for that over say : a graduate scheme with RBS?

  5. Andrew Burnett / May 5 2011 3:10 pm

    I’ve been an employee of ‘foundations’ as well as ‘springboards’ and am now an SME owner.

    I think that in addition to there being these two types of employers (and indeed more as Kelly pointed out above) there are also (at least) two types of potential employee. There are those who purely are interested in salary, pension, holidays etc and then there are those with passion. The former are probably best suited to working in a bank or for the council, the latter are the kind of employee that I want to hire.

    I’m a firm believer in hunger driving passion and innovation, people who tend to see it that way are the type of people who springboards need – and vice versa too.

  6. Louise Hartley / May 24 2011 1:01 pm

    I think this is a great concept and am very happy others are thinking the same way. I took a job with a company a few years ago on a similar principle. I was attempting a career change and thought start low and see what happens. They portrayed themselves as a springboard and I was happy to accept the low pay for the incentive of more some day. Unfortunitely they believed in people staying where they are. They encouraged me to “stop banging my head off a brick wall” and “stop being so driven” and I ended up leaving to start a new adventure.
    There is so much potential out there for both SME and employees but it’s all about getting the right fit. My fit was the wrong one but they still got two years of dedicated hard work (and a whole new system) as a result and I have new skills and qualities I can utilise further in my next role.

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