Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Back to school for two-thirds of SME leaders

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Market research has shown that a number of SME leaders will go back to school in 2020 to improve their business skill.

• Two-thirds of business leaders sense the need to sharpen skills in 2020
• Digital skills tops list of priorities, particularly for retail businesses as shops increasingly move online
• Confidence on the increase as 81% of SMEs plan to spend money on growing their business in the New Year

The majority of leaders of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) across the country have plans to brush up their skills in 2020, according to new research from Hitachi Capital Business Finance. New research showed that 69% were planning on attending courses next year, with leaders in the manufacturing (82%), legal (85%) and transport (73%) sectors the most likely to say they want training.

Top of the list of development areas was digital skills. Of the business leaders with plans for training, 38% said they were after more skills to improve their knowledge of software, the internet and social media. Interestingly, this figure increased to 51% of leaders in the retail sector – a sign of the direction of travel as shops increasingly move away from the high street and increasingly online. Marketing and PR was also a big consideration for around a quarter (28%) of business leaders.

Similarly, with a clearer position on Europe potentially around the corner, one in four (25%) would now like professional guidance on the likely impact of Brexit on their business. This was most keenly felt by leaders in the agriculture (27%), real estate (24%), and hospitality (24%) sectors.

Interestingly the proportion of business leaders under 35 with plans for training in the New Year shot to a massive nine in 10 (88%). While digital skills were a priority, the environment was a massive consideration for this group – 29% said they wanted training on how to make their businesses more environmentally friendly compared with a national average of 15%.

More broadly, the same research found that confidence within the small business community is gradually increasing. Four in five (81%) SMEs had plans to invest in the New Year to grow their business, while 36% expected their businesses to grow in the next three months.

Top 5 areas of training being sought by SME leaders
Digital skills (e.g. social media, software skills etc.) – 38%
Marketing and PR – 28%
The likely impact of Brexit on my business – 25%
Tax and legal issues – 23%
GDPR/ data privacy – 15%

Gavin Wraith-Carter, managing director at Hitachi Capital Business Finance commented: “Standing still in a business world as competitive as today for most leaders is simply not an option. Businesses will all have specific challenges to address as the market shifts and technology evolves. The best way of staying a step ahead of competitors is to invest in skills across the business.

“Set against a period of unprecedented Brexit uncertainty, the fact that four in five businesses are planning to put money in to grow their business in the New Year, is a further indication of their resilience and determination to succeed.”