18/08/2014

By Arnoud Jullens, Head of Enterprise at the Royal Academy of Engineering


One of the key issues currently plaguing small and growing businesses in the UK is the difficulty of recruiting and retaining qualified staff. Many worry we are headed for a skills crisis, where the skills of future generations will not meet the requirements of UK businesses.

These fears appear to be well-founded. According to a recent report by the Prince’s Trust, more than 40% of businesses are already experiencing skills gaps within their firms, while more than half are facing difficulties filling vacancies.
The skills gap is of particular concern for businesses in the technology and engineering sectors, where specialist knowledge plays a key role. Whilst sourcing staff with the right technical qualifications can be challenging enough, finding those who also possess the business skills that are vital to the running of a small company can feel like searching for a needle in a haystack.

As such, more employers should be looking to invest in up-skilling their workforces from within. There are a range of valuable courses that business can fund, including:

Mini-MBAs

Entrepreneurs often find the transition to the business world a difficult one to navigate. From being an acknowledged expert in one specialist area they suddenly have to take a step back and acquire the range of different skills involved in running a business. While a regular MBA would clearly be a useful investment, most entrepreneurs are unable to make the time commitment required by a full-time postgraduate degree. Mini-MBAs, which are now offered by a range of universities across the country, condense many of the key objectives into a fraction of the time.

Time management classes

In a small business, the same person often has to fulfil many distinct roles simultaneously. It is not uncommon for an entrepreneur to find themselves serving as sales officer, technology consultant, press agent and Chief Operating Officer at the same time. A wide range of courses exist that can help facilitate this process, helping employees feel comfortable handling multiple different projects.

Leadership training

Even the most qualified employees sometimes need a little guidance before they can be entrusted with responsibilities over their fellow co-workers. Whether conducted online or via in-person workshops, leadership training is a valuable investment that can pay for itself in the long run.

Team-building exercises

In order for your business to succeed, you need a winning team with a broad range of experience you can identify and learn to use efficiently. A small investment in team-building can lead to dramatic improvements in performance, allowing you to streamline your hiring process and harness your team’s full potential.

Investor readiness courses

Before you can successfully pitch to an investor, you need to make sure your business is in the right shape. For new businesses in particular, this can be a stressful and time-consuming process, where improving your skills could prove critical to your business success.

Negotiation classes

The equation is relatively simple: good negotiation skills will improve your profit margin. If you can negotiate good deals with your customers as well as your suppliers, the profit margin is yours to be won. The benefits of good negotiation training can also be felt when pitching your business to potential investors, or relieving friction among your own staff.

Training programmes such as these are central to the growth of UK SMEs, but the costs can seem daunting to cash-strapped start-ups. There are several ways in which businesses can seek financial support to help with these costs, such as the Pathways to Growth scheme introduced recently by the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Enterprise Hub. Between £10,000 and £20,000 is available for successful applicants specifically to spend on valuable staff training that will help businesses to grow.

It’s imperative that small UK businesses ensure they maximise the potential in their current workforces by considering their long term training strategy. Your workforce should be considered a primary business asset and, with national support schemes available to help financially, ambitious businesses should be up-skilling staff as a priority.