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Written by Annie Peate, Policy Advisor for Education and Skills for FSB.
The roundtable, attended by representatives from the public and private sector, professional bodies, local government and industry leads, marked the launch of our new report, Leading the way: boosting leadership and management in small firms.
The report examines the importance of improving the leadership and management capabilities of the UK’s small business community to closing the productivity gap. A key finding of the report is that while three fifths of small business owners (59%) say they update their business knowledge and skills at least once a year, specific management training is often lacking. What’s more, only a quarter of small firms questioned (25%) had undertaken management training in the last 12 months, and a similar proportion (26%) had never undergone any form of management training at all.
Following an introduction from FSB Policy Director, Mike Cherry, attendees were quick to concur with the key findings of the report. For some attendees, a potential game-changer could be the introduction of the apprenticeship levy, which may help stimulate small employers’ investment in apprenticeships – particularly in higher and degree apprenticeships covering a range of skills, including leadership and management – for both existing and new employees.
Moving on from apprenticeships, individuals around the table shared examples of effective investments by small firms in growing leadership and management capability through informal training – something which often goes unrecognised. Building on this, others pointed to evidence of a focus on building the soft skills that make successful leaders and managers, including effective communication and relationship-building, that are key to building trust and managing people. For many around the table, formal, accredited training can provide a competent theoretical grounding in leadership and management practice, but good people-skills are paramount.
It wasn’t long, however, until discussion turned to the reasons behind small firms’ underinvestment in leadership and management skills, including the confusing landscape of support, lack of recognition of the benefits of growing these capabilities at firm level, the belief that seemingly more urgent skills issues require investment (such as digital skills) and the lack of time, resource and money.
While there is no silver bullet to solving these issues, potential solutions put-forward were improving collaboration between information providers and create effective signposting to support, clearer articulation of the advantages of investment to the bottom line, greater availability of support that speaks to organiations depending on where they are in their ‘journey’ and more local growth hubs and greater emphasis on the important role of intermediaries in supporting small business.
Boosting leadership and management skills in small businesses can only be achieved if firms are encouraged, incentivised and supported to prioritise the acquisition and development of these capabilities. Clearly, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach, but that approaches will differ by region, sector and even, as our report suggest, by size of the business. Skills need local solutions delivered by local partners addressing local needs. In spite of this the overwhelming message to small businesses coming out of today’s discussion was this – lead or be led.
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