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Quarter of SMEs say digital skills not important for business growth

Survey shows many smaller firms do not consider digital skills essential, but Federation of Small Businesses says talent recruitment can be a “nightmare”

A quarter of small firms do not believe digital skills are important for their businesses to grow, according to research.

A study by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) found that 25% of small firms don’t think digital skills are important for their growth, despite 22% believing that a lack of digital skills within their organisation is preventing them from increasing their digital and online presence.

In the UK, a majority of adults do not have the skills required to complete basic digital tasks, leaving many people without the digital skills needed to perform many jobs.

More than a quarter of small business owners are not confident in their own basic digital skills, and 46% of small to medium-sized businesses (SMEs) say their staff lack knowledge.

Mike Cherry, national chairman of the FSB, said the UK’s skills shortage is making talent recruitment a “nightmare” for smaller firms that may not have the resources to invest in training staff.

“The twin pressures of rapid technological change and Brexit make upskilling the current workforce more important than ever,” said Cherry. “Small firms clearly recognise the value of providing training for themselves and their staff, but it can be a struggle to find the time and money, and in some cases even to find the right training locally.”

Many firms complain that students are leaving education without the skills they need to fill tech roles, despite the industry in Europe predicting a need for about 756,000 skilled professionals by 2020.

Recruitment for smaller businesses is no different, with 30% of smaller firms saying skills shortages have hindered recruitment over the past year, especially for skilled trade jobs such as electricians, IT engineers and construction workers.

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More than 15% of firms claimed they have found it difficult to find a local training provider for the skills needed in their businesses, and a quarter said the main barrier to staff training is that staff are too busy.

Cost was also cited as a barrier by smaller firms, with 21% claiming training is too expensive, and almost half having no formal training plan or budget.

In some cases where firms cannot find or train skilled workers, they use contracted workers instead and, according to the FSB’s research, three-quarters of those who are self-employed have no budget or plans to support training.

Cherry said the government should do more to help the self-employed to develop news skills as well as refresh existing skills.

The government recently launched a survey asking employers using digital technologies or employing technology specialists what digital and technology skills will be needed now and in the future, in a bid to better understand and develop the UK’s digital talent pool.

Read more on IT for small and medium-sized enterprises (SME)

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I run a website which helps SMEs to connect with potential customers, and I do see some of them struggling with things like writing compelling business profiles.

Probably the most challenging area is online communication with customers - on average only 20% of sellers actually reply to customers when they want to buy services from them, and of the 20% who do reply, a high proportion do not communicate especially well with their customers.

It seems to me like many SMEs are missing out on opportunities through not being digitally confident.
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