mobile e-commerce

Digital skills gap a multibillion-euro problem

SMEs need a strong channel to realise the potential of digital transformation, says Billy MacInnes
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Image: Anete Lusina/Pexels

7 April 2022

There was some interesting research about SMEs in Ireland published by Google earlier this week. Conducted by Amarach, the research claimed “that ambitious investment in digital skills could result in Ireland’s GDP in 2025 being €9.5 billion higher (€544.2 billion) than currently forecast”.

The report, entitled Bridging the Gap: A report on digital capabilities in Irish SMEs, found the majority of SMEs believed they would be “at least halfway on their digital journey in three years’ time” and that 28% thought they would be able to increase wages and salaries “with the right configuration of digital skills”.

Further along in the report, it stated that only one in seven SME leaders felt they had the skills required “to successfully adopt and use new technology” and only one in six thought IT teams had all the skills. Nearly half (47%) admitted they would struggle to get the finance and funding needed to invest in digital skills and 58% said it was very expensive to invest in those skills at the moment.

 

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It’s these types of responses which often bring the phrase “this sounds like a job for the channel” into my mind. Usually, if there’s a skills gap, if companies need advice and they can’t afford to deal with the issue themselves, that’s when they ought to consider using a channel partner. Just as importantly, that’s when channel partners need to be letting them know that they can help.

In this context, the section headlined The advisory gap should make rewarding reading for companies in the channel. “Faced with time and internal resource constraints, most busy SMEs have no choice but to look externally for digital skills advice,” the report noted. “We asked SME leaders to tell us where they seek advice or information to support their digital skills ambitions.”

Support systems

Top of the pile for just over half of SMEs (56%) was to look to their technology provider (hardware, software or services) to support them in acquiring digital skills. Even so, that leaves almost half who looked elsewhere, suggesting there is quite a bit of untapped potential for channel partners when it comes to working with SME customers.

The report also found that one in three SMEs were “not confident they know where to get support for digital skills”. Again, that represents an opportunity for channel partners.

There was also the question of how well matched the advice, training and support was to their needs. “The main preference for external training is for short courses or modules, and about one in four want certifications (while a third want self-paced, online content),” the report stated.

There was a difference between smaller and larger SMEs, with the former opting for short courses while their bigger counterparts preferred vocational qualifications. Smaller companies also preferred self-paced or online courses while larger firms tended to want group-based or face-to-face training sessions. These findings aren’t that surprising when you consider smaller companies are likely to have less time and opportunity for employees to go to scheduled training sessions – especially as they may find it difficult to spare someone from the office for a day’s training.

Still, it’s useful to know what these preferences are. From the perspective of channel partners seeking stronger engagement with SME customers, the following sentence from the report is worth bearing in mind: “All of this points to an appetite for a variety of digital skills content and training, whomever provides it.”

There’s no reason why a channel partner can’t be that whomever.


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