Skills development in SMEs: more than just a box to tick

Skills development as a vehicle to empower SMEs

With unemployment rates soaring at 27.1% in 2017, (and lest I remind you – it’s only February), Richard Branson’s famous tweet springs to mind,train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.” A quote that in theory encourages all entrepreneurs to follow in Branson’s footsteps but in practicality, one that sometimes feels impossible to achieve. But let’s be honest, the consequence of NOT developing is much more detrimental to your business.

Now in many minds the term “skills development” means just obtaining another piece of paper or another qualification that ticks off a box on your checklist. The cost and time involved, opposed to the benefit of the development seems pointless. Yet, we need to think beyond the amount of time and money that is involved and look at the output of quality as a return on investment. So, what skills should employers focus on: obviously, this is industry specific but the key here is to do a thorough gap analysis. If you are an owner or manager of a small and medium enterprise (SME) you need to ask yourself: where am I today? Where do I want to be in the future? What skills would I need to achieve this? A rule of thumb is:

  1. To focus on enhancing and developing technical skills first
  2. Followed by developing critical and/or scarce skills for the future
  3. And last but not least, develop your employees soft skills.

Cedric Franz, Head of Technology at Bettech Gaming, wisely points out that “developing employees is a big investment for any company, but … if you manage and foster a learning culture in your organisation, employees can experience career growth in your organization. Rather than job hopping, you will create an incredibly strong team of employees and a strong organisation.”

Skills development means empowerment. Empowering your business but also empowering your employees. By taking this step towards developing your employees, there is an enormous ripple effect as the right employees develop a sense of pride in their work thereby motivating them to go the extra mile and being confident in their role. Job satisfaction as an effect also means they are inclined to take initiative which encourages them to learn more and apply these new learnings back in the business. According to Damian Michael, Managing Director of Innovo Networks, “career development and growth helps boost the morale of the employee as well as paves a path of where the individual is heading within the organization.” As a result an investment in skills development gives employees that opportunity to gradually take on more responsibility and accountability. This eases the burden of the “daily tasks” on the business owner, allowing them to focus on strategic business development and growth.

Furthermore, skills development aligned to an employee’s career aspirations creates loyalty. Vuyisanani Ndlazi, Sales Executive at Innovo Networks, says that employer investment keeps employees “positive about their work or job”, keeps them “focused on long term growth” as well as stimulating positive “competition between peers”. Interestingly, many employers fear that once employees have been invested in, they leave for greener pastures. However, these people were most likely going to leave regardless of training and we really shouldn’t make the correlation between training and leaving. It is important to focus on how much benefit your business had and the long-term impact that skill had on your business. Secondly, business knowledge sharing is essential. If you send an employee on an external course then ask them to share their key learnings with other employees, indirectly giving them independence and positioning them as knowledge experts – this not only boosts individual morale but also encourages teamwork, cohesion and loyalty.

By offering skills development, SME’s are giving people a true shot at a job and not just at being employed. By offering skills development opportunities to the right people in your business you are in actual fact driving passions, credibility, empowerment, job performance and directly contributing to the SA economy as your business begins to flourish and new jobs are potentially created within your own business or as a result of your business product or service.

Written by Alexia Cox (PhD), Director of Merging Minds

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Merging Minds
Merging Minds