Cumbrian businesses have been urged to look at their culture and explore alternative rewards for their staff.

Dozens of business leaders gathered to attend Armstrong Watson's Business Owners' Breakfast Forum event at Carlisle Racecourse and heard from Shelley Hayward, of People Keepers.

The people engagement strategist told the audience: “Businesses that engage with and invest in their people are four times more profitable than those that don’t.”

A panel of experts, including Shelley, discussed with delegates ways in which to attract and retain talent and help combat Cumbria’s well documented growing skills shortage.

Paul Dickson, Armstrong Watson chief executive and managing partner, said: “When we talk to our clients one of the biggest challenges we discuss is people, particularly in Cumbria, and in fact, one of our own speakers here today, corporate tax director Becky Bowness, was encouraged to return to the region and take up her role with Armstrong Watson.”

Becky and her colleague Dominic Gaunt explored alternative means of financial reward, stressing that traditional salary plus bonus schemes were not always the most effective ways to reward staff.

Becky exploded the myths surrounding Employee Share Schemes and looked at the potential tax advantages to offering valued employees shareholding opportunities, and Dominic discussed the financial benefits of Salary Sacrifice pension contributions to both employers and employees.

Grant Glendinning, principal of Carlisle College, and Andy Dodds, the college's director of business development and marketing, encouraged employers to invest in their workforce and consider the merits of apprenticeships for all ages and all levels.