Soft skills

Report: 88% of firms consider developing management skills a strategic priority

Yet 49% have no formal budget to develop management and leadership
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23 October 2020

The Expert Group on Future Skills Needs (EGFSN), which advises the government on current and future skills needs of the economy and their impact on Ireland’s enterprise and employment growth, has published a report on SME Management Skills.

Entitled Leading the Way, the report highlighted how essential management skills are to business productivity, resilience and survival. 

The research, which was carried out between October 2019 and March 2020, identified several key findings:



  • Managers recognise management and leadership development as a top priority, in particular for their management teams, if less so for themselves
  • Firms with better innovation outcomes and better management scores were found to conduct more formal training and to use more formal approaches to strategising
  • Better outcomes for the firm are also associated with the use of more external data and networking opportunities
  • There is a large capacity for delivering management-related training and development in Ireland
  • There is a need for improvement in HRM practices concerning dealing with underperformance and hiring practices
  • Firms that reported high intensity data and advanced analytics usage demonstrated significantly better management practice scores, as well as improvements in innovation and innovation outcomes
  • Companies that are not currently internationalising are interested in exporting, and supports need to help them realise such ambitions

It also found that 88% of firms consider developing management skills an important strategic priority, however 49% don’t have a formal budget to develop management and leadership. 

“This must change,” said Tony Donohoe, chair of the EGFSN, “SMEs that engage in formal management skills training in Ireland have better outcomes in terms of productivity, growth, employment and survival.”

Recommendations proposed to address these challenges draw on findings from literature and interviews, the survey and regional focus groups.

Management development is fundamental to improving the productivity of SMEs. Managers that adopt best practice management skills and practices are better placed to formulate clear strategy, adopt modern methods, develop better teams, innovate and grow.

With SMEs accounting for almost 70% of total employment in the Irish business economy, improving their performance is vital in helping to lift the economy as a whole. The report found that the attitude of SME owners and managers to management development is central and recommends that management development must be a top strategic priority for all SMEs in Ireland.

Minster for Further Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris, said: “There is already so much going on in this space, with more than 1,100 management training courses available in 2019, training more than 81,000 managers. But large swathes of the SME population do not connect with these resources or take advantage of the opportunities and supports that are already there. I encourage all SME managers to take note and to make management development a priority for 2021. This is not a time to pull back on investment in management training. It is a time for SME managers to renew their commitment to world-class management skills and practices.”

“Investment in management development is a commitment to the future,” said Minister of State of State for Business, Employment & Retail Damien English. “The challenges facing the business sector right now make world-class management skills even more of an imperative for Irish SMEs. SMEs should make it a priority to identify their management skills needs and plan to fill those gaps. I encourage all SMEs to seek out the supports that are already available – contact your local LEO, Skillnet Ireland or your representative organisation for advice.”

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