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How SMEs can develop in-demand skills

Suzanne McQuade, OU Business Relationships Manager (Scotland) Author: 

Suzanne McQuade is the Business Relationships Manager for Scotland at The Open University

Through the Flexible Workforce Development Fund, small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) across Scotland can now access funded training up to the value of £5,000, delivered by The Open University in Scotland.

Here, Suzanne McQuade, Business Relationships Manager (Scotland), talks about why this fund is so important and her top tips for making the most of the training opportunity. 

Many of Scotland’s SMEs need to upskill and reskill their workforce – now more so than ever due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Flexible Workforce Development Fund (FWDF) is a Scottish Government initiative with the latest phase launched to help SMEs develop skills to boost productivity and growth post pandemic. 

What is the current skills landscape?

There are significant skills shortages in Scotland with many employers still struggling to find the talent they need, both now and for the future.

The Open University’s Business Barometer 2020 report found that 60% of employers in Scotland had skills gaps, with some of them taking more than 26 months to fill vacancies.

In order to plug those gaps, organisations spent £460 million, a 60% increase on the previous year. That’s a very costly and short-term approach to addressing skills shortages, and one that is unsustainable, particularly for SMEs.  

What skills are most in demand?

A seated woman, smilingDigital skills continue to be a priority. Even before the pandemic, there was a critical shortage of digital talent, but the rapid digitisation of products, services and ways of working throughout 2020 has intensified that shortage.

Leadership and management skills also remain in high demand with a focus on resilience, agility and managing through change. 

The pandemic has also shone a light on health and social care and how skills in this sector are critical to the welfare of all society – and we should not forget the urgent and ongoing challenge for organisations to be more sustainable. 

What training is available?

SMEs will be supported to develop a bespoke training plan, with the courses being delivered online through the OU’s innovative learning platforms. It is a highly flexible way to access the training businesses need – in the workplace or from home.

There is a lot of choice with course types at Scottish Credit & Qualifications Framework Level 10 (undergraduate) and Level 11 (postgraduate), including short courses, modules, microcredentials, as well as industry recognised or accredited provision. 

What are the benefits to SMEs?

The FWDF enables SMEs to address critical skills shortages, supporting them to restart, recover and renew in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Organisations can upskill and reskill the workforce, getting them ready for any challenges that lie ahead and importantly, to equip them to respond to new opportunities and realise their potential.

The impact of the training also means that SMEs do not need to rely on hiring new staff or take on temporary workers to plug skills gaps and incur the associated costs. 

My top tips:

  • Understand your organisation’s needs. Take a holistic approach to skills. Doing a skills gap analysis will help to identify what training is really needed to achieve the right blend of skills. Eligible SMEs can contact Skills Development Scotland’s Skills for Growth team for some free expert advice.
  • Empower your organisation’s talent pool. Widen access to learning to support women, people with disabilities, Black, Asian and minority ethnic workers, plus all other groups protected under the Equality Act 2010. Creating an inclusive and diverse workforce improves business performance and supports organisations to be more adaptable.
  • Consider new opportunities for employees. Think about how employees can be supported to upskill and reskill to evolve their job roles and to adapt to new ways of working as we enter the recovery period.
  • Be proactive: take a long-term approach to investing in skills. Think about how training will drive innovation and productivity and how this aligns with your organisation’s goals. How will you measure this? Develop a culture of lifelong learning to build organisational resilience. Our OpenLearn platform provides learning resources that complement the training and support a transition to formal learning.

Find out more about the Flexible Workforce Development Fund


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