Learning and development – a challenge for SMEs

For SME owners, it can feel like the smaller the business, the more challenges there are. Yes, you’re maybe more flexible, more agile, lower overheads, and so on… but regardless of scale, you have the same issues as any other business, whatever its size. One such challenge is learning and development: getting the right skills and knowledge to the right people at the right time.

The learning challenge

The key driver is competition and building and maintaining your competitive advantage in the marketplace. For that you need to keep pace, and even stay ahead of the game. That means ensuring your people have the latest skills, knowledge, and best practices in your field or industry.

There’s also the issue of attracting and retaining the best possible people to work with you. HINT: good people are more attracted to employers who will develop their skills, and therefore careers.

Add to this the need to comply with employment law and necessary regulations (anything from professional certification requirements to ensuring management doesn’t land you in an employment tribunal).

Even if you already see the value in investing in learning, there are the practical issues what training and for whom. There are the technical skills needed to get the job done (whatever they may be for your business) and the need for competent management and leadership. Depending on your size, these might (might!) crop up often enough to be worth having some sort of in-house training capacity. But then there are the things you need once in a blue moon (e.g. training to use a new IT setup or deal with a change in relevant legislation).

Then there are issues of accessibility (how, when and where does the training take place?), consistency (ensuring that your people are getting good quality learning input), and cost.

You can do a lot to build a team culture focused on training and development, cultivating an attitude that values learning, but ultimately the practical challenge is delivery– if you don’t have the time, resources or people in-house, how to do you ensure your people get the training they need for your business to flourish?

Outsourcing – common solution

As with other ‘support functions’ like HR, finance, marketing, legal services, etc. a common strategy is outsourcing – buying in the learning you need.

Depending on the size of your business, the following types of training are both available and necessary in some form or degree for most businesses:

  • Commercial training – This category can cover a multitude of issues, from contract negotiation & management to client conversations, supply chain management to bidding for government work, or simply ensuring a commercial awareness throughout the team.
  • Customer service training – From first contact and customer reception to dealing with calls and complaints.
  • Finance training – Who manages your budgets? Who deals with the accountants? How’s your cash flow? Are you secure against fraud?
  • HR training – It’s a cliché but your people really are your most valuable resource, and potentially the most difficult to manage. Even if you outsource to an HR service, your managers still need a basic awareness of day to day good practice.
  • IT training – These days, the cloud offers quality IT tools for better collaboration and communication (the Google Workspace suite is a good place to start) and then there are the word processing, database and spreadsheet packages that are so fundamental… but how do you know you’re getting the best from such tools?
  • Leadership, management & personal effectiveness training – Decision-making, problem-solving, change management, presentation skills, business writing, giving and receiving feedback, meetings…
  • Project management training – Pivoting or expanding your business, moving into a new market or launching a new product/service, introducing new systems for your team to use – coordinated and systematic management improves the chances of success.
  • Sales training – Knowing how to engage with customers, sell without being ‘sales-y’, closing the deal… whatever you provide to your users, your people need to know how to sell with integrity.

The list of available learning is potentially endless and the priority topics depend on your business – what it is and the circumstances it’s operating in. What’s sure is that your needs can be met by an external provider, and often to a higher standard of quality and consistency than can be (or should be) set up in-house.

The In-House Training Company offers all of the above and more, via an extensive network of experienced and acclaimed trainers and facilitators, focused on the practical application of business knowledge and skills. If you’re looking for support with your learning and development, check out our website or give us a call on 01582 463463. We’re always here to help.