Improving SMEs’ IT skills key to flexible working

A new report by the Centre for Future Studies, backed by new YouGov research, has shown that a skills shortage is hindering ‘third generation’ flexible working.

A new report by independent forecasting think tank, the Centre for Future Studies, backed by new YouGov research, has shown that a skills shortage is hindering ‘third generation’ flexible working.

The effects of such a shortage could be most keenly felt within the SME community where three-quarters of such firms in the UK now claim to offer their employees some form of flexible working, according to data from BT Business.

The Centre for Future Studies report, ‘IT Skills for Flexible Working’, says that the adoption of newly defined “third generation” flexible working is slow due to a lack of technical know-how across the workforce. 

The report introduces definitions for different types of flexible working with the third generation referred to as the ‘most sophisticated and revolutionary’ flexible working, involving the emergence of the virtual office which has total location independence and where employees are given greater autonomy in the way they manage and plan their work.  

Even though many SMEs have successfully some form of flexible working, few SMEs are using the third generation practices where technology is fully integrated to create a virtual office. This may in the main be explained by the 62% of the survey that say that they lack the appropriate IT skills and training to properly exploit their existing technology and therefore third generation flexible working.

Commented Dr Frank Shaw, Foresight Director at the Centre for Future Studies, “Our research shows that many SMEs are operating their IT systems on a low-tech and low-skill basis. Even though the majority of SMEs have access to the technology required to sustain flexible working, many are failing to exploit the benefits because of a lack of skills. SMEs need to demonstrate their commitment to flexible working by arming their employees with the know-how to use the tools.”

SMEs who offer flexible working can attract and retain the very best people to bring business success added Bill Murphy, managing director, BT Business. “The future of competitive business for SMEs relies on employers and employees having a good grasp of technology. Businesses of all sizes should work together to ensure that SMEs are equipped with the correct skills to use technology to its full benefit.”

Other key findings from the report include: 75% of SMEs do not provide specific IT training for remote workers; 88% of managers have not received any training on managing remote workers and are not familiar with the IT requirements; 25% are dissatisfied with the basic IT skills of their workers; 41% are dissatisfied with the advanced IT skills of their workers; 37% are dissatisfied with the technical skills of their workers.

‘IT Skills for Flexible Working’ is available from BT Business Insight 

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