The majority of leaders of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) across the country have plans to brush up their skills in 2020, according to research from Hitachi Capital Business Finance.
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.
So, what should be the top considerations for leaders looking to boost their own, and their team’s, digital skills in 2020? We asked industry experts for their thoughts.
1. Create the right environment for learning
Salonee Gadgil – Digital Content Director, Stand:
“For the past decade digital talent has been in high demand, and this is set to continue well into 2020 and beyond. The digital world is constantly shifting, and all businesses want someone on their team who can understand and navigate this moving target. Whilst the temptation is to hire ‘an expert’ and hope they have the answers, the truth is, we all need to increase our digital understanding, including the tools and tech we use to communicate and trade in the online world.
“Algorithms, browsers, search engines, social media platforms and mobile softwares evolve constantly. When building a digital team, look for people who aren’t intimidated by this changing landscape, but are excited by it and the possibilities it creates. Encourage them to accept that part of their job is the need to constantly upgrade their own knowledge and skills – whether that’s by picking up a user manual, taking a refresher course or searching for answers in an online community or peer network.
“What’s important at a business level, is to create an environment where people feel comfortable to admit they are still (and will always be) learning. It’s about giving them the time and support to increase their digital skills, until it becomes as familiar as every other aspect of their job. When recruiting into digital roles, this freedom to develop and continue learning, can be as attractive as the pay and benefits package, and recruits will want to know they will be given the time and support to keep ahead of digital changes.
“The best way to futureproof a business and prepare for whatever digital future lies ahead of us, is to accept the speed of change, and all play a part in adapting and navigating to the shift.”
2. Embrace free or low-cost training
Tom Bourlet – Marketing, The Stag Company:
“With the cost of training at a premium, free marketing events such as www.takeitoffline.co.uk or relatively cheap training tools such as https://www.lynda.com/ will become increasingly important when it comes to small businesses training staff at digital skills.
“Each city should have a website or tool highlighting regular marketing meetups which are free or very cheap, in Brighton we have https://www.wiredsussex.com/events/.
“YouTube in itself has become a brilliant area for marketing training, with various marketing agencies and consultants posting videos walking through every task you could possibly think of.”
3. Understand which skills are important to your team and your business
“First, there are baseline core skills required by all employers, regardless of industry sector. These include the use of common productivity tools such as the Microsoft Office suite; powerful in the right hands but often under-utilised. For example, an Excel wiz could use it to analyse company sales data and make predictions, and the report highlights that Microsoft Excel is the most requested productivity skill in job adverts. Businesses should prioritise these baseline skills in the first instance.”
“Second, demand for skills varies by region. For example, there is a high demand for data analysis skills in London but lower demand in the East Midlands. Where there is high demand but little supply, businesses may be faced with a stark choice: pay a premium to candidates with these skills or look inwards and train their existing staff. The report suggests that digital skills carry a wage differential, so there is a clear incentive for workers to develop these attributes.”
“Additionally, both workers and businesses can benefit from investing in digital skills that are hard to automate and depend on human creativity. These skilled workers are harder to replace but businesses gain a source of competitive advantage. On the job training is great if the expertise already exists within the organisation but some workers may feel that sharing their hard-earned skills makes them less indispensable.”
4. Keep on eye on RoI
“With the emergence of new technologies and software, there’s no reason why training should continue to be a guessing game. Focus on raising awareness in order to change behaviours, and use technology to measure the progress you are making. Modern training is all about data. Use that data to figure out where training is working and where it isn’t.”
Craig Allen – Director, Nigel Frank International:
“Formal certifications are a great choice as they encompass everything you need to know about whichever technology you’re using. However, they can be expensive and can also make your staff more valuable, which will result in them expecting greater remuneration for their newfound skills. It’s always worth making sure any budget you set aside for new tech solutions includes the cost for training staff and keeping that education up to date. It’s an ongoing cost, rather than a one-off investment. It’s also worth bearing in mind that staff using a solution without formal training may save you money in the short-term, but will likely result in them expecting that education in future, or seeking an employer who will value and reward those newfound skills and keep them up to date.”