20th December 2022

With recent economic events, every business is facing challenges. These range from scaling costs, staff shortages and unreliable supply chains. In an environment where many UK businesses - especially small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) - have lower productivity than their global counterparts, now is time to invest in people skills. This will help businesses innovate in new markets and drive cost reduction for them to remain competitive. With current workforce shortages, the need to retain and develop talent, supporting them into higher-paid roles, is even more important.


What skills are required by employers?

The pandemic caused two major shifts in skills. There was a rapid scale-up of businesses using of digital technologies and a greater understanding of the need for firms to move towards more sustainable, low-carbon ways of operating. There has been significant innovation across both areas in recent years. However, neither have been successfully embedded enough to make a significant impact on productivity.

While many employers focus on job specific (technical and specialist) skills, there is a growing recognition of the importance of job-neutral (digital, sustainability, business and commercial) skills and leadership and management skills. These skills enable individuals to be more aware of technologies, and have the mindset, confidence and knowledge to adopt them in the workplace.


The benefits of investing in staff development

Investing in staff development creates opportunities for teams to grow their knowledge base and improve their job skills. They will become more effective within their job role and create a strong growth-focused culture.

The benefits for employers who invest in training for themselves and their employees are endless. The last few years have shown that the future is uncertain. However, equipping employees with the skills that will make them confident, innovative, and agile when confronted with change will give businesses the best chance of not just surviving but thriving.

  1. Improved productivity and performance

By employees learning how they can do their jobs more efficiently and change into other roles easily, it can improve their knowledge of the industry and the purpose of the business.

  1. Enhanced customer experience

Today, almost every company is competing in a global market. The internet and technology mean customers have a wide variety of choices. Higher-quality products, more-efficient service delivery and more-helpful customer support is what sets businesses apart. This requires employees who aren’t just good, but the best at what they do.

  1. Increase innovation

Training isn’t just about sitting in a classroom. The modern learning experience allows employees to learn from expert speakers and network with like-minded people and other organisations, such as universities, in your local region. Hearing what others are doing and sharing best practice helps employees develop new ideas and processes to move the business forward.

  1. Increase in employee satisfaction

Providing career development opportunities allows employees to feel valued and supported within their workplace, boosts job satisfaction, reduces staff turnover and helps attract new talent. Investing in employee development can reinforce and showcase the business’s values. This is really important when recruiting new staff as Gen Z are more social-value driven when selecting where they work.

  1. Continuous training increases agility and resilience

In a global economy that keeps evolving, the most successful companies will be those that adapt quickly and effectively. Having a learning culture helps keep knowledge fresh, skills sharp and confidence high, and encourages employees to drive continuous improvement and change in the business.


Where to go for training and business support

There are an overwhelming number of training organisations and programmes on offer to businesses. While universities might not be top of your list, there are many ways in which they can help businesses, especially SMEs. This includes:

  • Supporting entrepreneurs to launch their business

  • Providing practical advice, support, and access to networks to run and develop the business

  • Support to develop new technologies and services

  • Help to access funding

  • Providing students to undertake projects

  • Recruit into vacancies

Universities are a source of affordable training and knowledge exchange services. They offer flexible, easy-to-access, practical learning and business support programmes designed specifically for SMEs.

There are now over 60 university business schools in the UK that are Small Business Charter (SBC) accredited. This accreditation is awarded in recognition of the work they undertake to support SMEs. Most universities now have single entry points, which makes it easier for employers to enter and navigate, and staff who have industry and entrepreneurial backgrounds.

SBC-accredited business schools have been contracted by government to deliver Help to Grow: Management, a 12-week strategic leadership programme. This is 90% funded and provides business leaders with a toolkit of resources and a support network to help them grow their business.

My advice to business leaders is to create the time to contact your local university or business school and see what they have to offer. They can support you to unlock potential growth and help you realise your growth ambition.


Dr Angela Tooley is an Enterprise Development Manager at the University of Derby.

This post first appeared on the University of Derby’s blog.