SMEs urged to compete for talent through focus on meta skills

KPMG Private Enterprise Skills City report predicts meta-skills and stackable skills will become increasingly important

KPMG report predicts meta-skills and stackable skills will become increasingly important

  • KPMG Private Enterprise report predicts meta and soft skills will be explicitly sought in recruitment
  • Such skills increasingly important in hybrid working environment
  • Stackable skills (topping up skills in bite sized blocks) are the future of learning in a fast-changing world

To attract and retain talent in a competitive market, small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) should recruit with a focus on meta-skills - broad capabilities that aid the development of other skills - such as critical thinking, empathy and innovation, urges KPMG Private Enterprise.

The business advisory firm’s new Skills City report finds that meta-skills help people adapt to change. This is vital for businesses which increasingly need an agile workforce, able to upskill as the company’s needs evolve and able to thrive in a hybrid working environment. But these skills are largely unrecognised formally in recruitment processes.

SMEs risk struggling to compete with larger, better resourced businesses as the war for talent reheats but the report finds these employers could appeal to exactly the type of employees best suited to developing as the business grows by explicitly seeking meta-skills and soft skills.

Importance of meta-skills in fast changing times

Changed circumstances and behaviours during the pandemic have highlighted how quickly skills needs can change, with demand for digital skills having grown strongly and swiftly. This refers not just to those in tech careers but the ability to use new business systems. In a fast-paced world it is challenging to decide which specific skills to invest in for the future. Equipping the business with flexible human capital - an agile workforce - is a good strategy for addressing unpredictability.

Importance of meta-skills in a hybrid working environment

Following the lockdowns of the pandemic and in an increasingly hybrid working environment, people skills may be rusty; approaches to collaboration and training will need to be refreshed; and opportunities to watch and learn will be reduced. Team members with meta-skills like the ability to learn from others, to develop others or to adapt to using new technologies will be valuable as many companies return to offices in a hybrid way.

Chris Hearld, Head of KPMG Private Enterprise, said:

“An agile workforce needs meta-skills to adapt to new roles and industries in a fast-changing world. These transferable skills lie behind strong performance in terms of effective collaboration, making the right judgement calls, and supporting colleagues. But they’re rarely included in job adverts or on CVs, alongside competencies. So, it is often unclear from people’s qualifications what meta and soft skills they bring.

“With their understanding of the strengths their business is built on, SMEs are well placed to map meta-skills when assessing their workforce requirements. Seeking them and stating they will be valued will help to put SMEs in the driving seat in the race for talent.

“These skills will rise in value and start to be referenced in recruitment processes.  For example, sectors like retail and hospitality – where dealing with the public is part of the job – are ideally placed to sell themselves as a route to gain crucial people skills.”

Collaboration and smarter training

KPMG’s report found strong support from employers, local government agencies and local education providers for further collaboration to meet future skills needs, building on progress to date.

In particular, there is more to do around identifying the roles of education, training providers and employers in reskilling and upskilling.

Neil Carberry CEO, Recruitment and Employment Confederation, said:

“We can’t wait for government to bring about collaboration. Business leaders need to walk the walk, by engaging with colleges and training providers.”

KPMG’s report states that business leaders should communicate their training needs as remote learning opens up economies of scale and scope.  Education institutions and training providers have a wider catchment area if people don’t have to travel so often; that means they can offer more specialised training and still keep the virtual classroom full. 

More stackable, flexible training is part of the answer. Training providers can offer more specific bite-sized courses and businesses can become smarter at understanding the skills already available within their workforce. Together this means SMEs will find accessing learning via education and training providers more affordable and valuable.

Mark Essex, Director of Skills at KPMG, adds:

“When businesses recognise what they’ve already got in their skills base and make more granular decisions about the skills needed, they will make smarter training investments.

“Rather than sheep dipping everyone from a skills point of view, as if starting from scratch, a top up approach, calling on targeting training is an effective way to help people bridge a skills gap to their next role, getting them ready for new challenges faster.

“As well as developing the agility of their workforce, this will support their credentials as an employer of choice in a seller’s market.”


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Alison Anderson, media relations manager, KPMG UK

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KPMG UK Media Relations Team: 0207 694 8773

Twitter: @kpmguk @chris_hearld @MarkJohnEssex @RECPress


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