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Government initiatives fail to stimulate training in SMEs, says study


Training in small businesses still has some way to go before it becomes 'best practice', with government initiatives failing to establish a culture of training in many, according to a recent study.

The Learning and Skills Development Agency looked at the responses from 85 SMEs, 50 focus group members and a sample of existing research to establish attitudes to training.

The survey revealed some negative concerns among SMEs that training would lead to an increased staff turnover (15% of respondents), with a fear among some (29%) that staff would be poached by other employers as a result. Additionally, just under half of respondents agreed that training and development should be provided in work time, although only a fifth felt that it disrupted work and over 85% agreed that training led to better-motivated staff. Nearly a quarter of respondents said their employer had made no attempt to assess their training needs.

Most of the respondents said that there needed to be a flexible approach to learning at work, with a clear relevance towards work activities. One of the key findings of the research was an apparent lack of benefit to SMEs from a range of government initiatives, and a lack of clear evidence that training was benefitting SME's as a whole.

With most companies using a combination of training providers, colleges, on-the-job training and training materials to develop their staff, interestingly, this particular survey indicated a dislike among respondents for training delivered electronically, and went on to question the effectiveness of the government's learndirect scheme to date - only 2% of respondents were using learndirect courses.

According to the research, the key factor identified which related to the success of training initiatives was the owner's overall attitude to the company's growth. It also found that there needed to be a clear need for training - such as new legislation or product development for it to be justified as an activity. The survey respondents mentioned lack of time, lack of money and lack of space in the workplace as barriers to training.

Maria Hughes, research manager at the Learning and Skills Development Agency, comments: "The clear message is that small firms usually face different problems, requiring different solutions, from those faced by bigger companies. The emphasis has to be on informal, time-efficient training which is linked to business performance, not a rigid one-size-fits-all approach. If work-based learning is to be effective, barriers need to be overcome. This includes motivating people to learn as well as convincing business of the benefits of training and development."

TrainingZONE says: Although not a positive study of the state of training in SMEs, the research may have a useful impact on rethinking some of the many initiatives which have been aimed at these companies in the last few years. It's also interesting to note the lack of interest in e-learning, which has often been put forward as a time-saving, cost-effective solution which could benefit smaller companies - perhaps this is down to current perceptions of e-learning in SME's.

What are your views on the research? Does it fit with your own experience of training in SME's or do you think the survey doesn't reflect real life? Add your comments below:


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