Why Skills Strategy is Key to Unlocking SME Growth 

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Xeinadin

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People are a business’s most valuable asset. And when it comes to growth and expansion, recruitment and upskilling have to take centre stage. Whatever your plans are, you need the right people to deliver them. 

But hundreds of small businesses in Ireland are finding their growth plans held up by difficulties in finding people with the skills they need. A new report from Skillnet Ireland details how small business owners are not just grappling with skills shortages, but are also seeing their skills needs evolve rapidly, locking them into what feels like a continuous cycle of recruitment. 

Core skills in flux 

The findings of the survey, which canvassed the opinions of leaders at 500 organisations across Ireland, revealed just how engaged small businesses are in skills development. 79% of SMEs surveyed said they had upskilled staff in the previous 12 months.  

Yet despite those efforts, half of SMEs reported problems finding people with the skills they feel they need to carry their business forward.  

Reading between the lines, there’s an apparent correlation with changing skill requirements. 56% of Irish businesses say they have seen a shift in their core skill needs in just the last two to three years. 61% think they will change again in the next two to three years. 

And the survey revealed where and why these shifts in skill requirements are happening. Looking at businesses overall, 65% said their staff would require some form of digital upskilling in the coming years, while 59% said climate action and sustainability skills were a looming priority. 

For SMEs, the top skill development priority looking forward is health and safety (73%). But in second place, 60% of small business owners see cyber security as critical. And making the top five behind financial management skills (57%) and sales and marketing (56%), just under half (49%) view climate action and sustainability as important skills areas in terms of growing their business. 

The need for a strategic approach to skills 

There’s little doubt that the combination of skills shortages in the labour market and rapidly changing skills requirements poses a formidable double challenge to small businesses trying to plot a path to growth. But the Skillnet survey also contains one further telling stat that reveals a possible route through the barriers. 

Despite so many small businesses being actively involved in upskilling their staff, only 27% told Skillnet they currently have a talent development strategy in place. This compares to 72% of large businesses.  

The more volatile markets are, labour markets included, the greater the rewards you will reap from doubling down on a strategic approach. With the shift towards digitisation that has taken place over the past decade, workplace skills have been in a state of flux for some time. Reacting to these changes puts you on the back foot.  

Strategic business planning means being more proactive. It means mapping out where you want the business to go, and putting in place realistic plans for how you will get there. Fundamentally, a skills strategy is no different to a financial strategy or a marketing strategy. It’s about looking at the bigger picture of what your business goals are, and plotting out what you need skills-wise to get there. And then working out how to deliver. 

Of course, the elephant in the room here for most SMEs is having the time and the know-how to develop and implement robust growth strategies. And be under no illusion – this is something most large businesses outsource and seek external expert advice on. 

But never fear – business advisory is not just for the big players. At Xeinadin, we offer a range of dedicated SME advisory services, delivered by professionals with proven expertise across industry verticals, and with a local presence across Ireland. 

Contact us today

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