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Skills for success: Supporting business leaders with digital adoption

Skills for Success 2021 report

The embrace of technology by small- and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) across the UK has rapidly accelerated since the Covid-19 pandemic first began – accelerating innovation in the process. However, we also know that of those businesses that adopt technology, most are unsuccessful.

Skills for success: Supporting business leaders with digital adoption is a new report from The Open University and Be the Business and seeks to answer the key questions around digital adoption, skills development and what more needs to be done to stimulate economic growth and raise firm-level productivity.

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The report is based on a survey of more than 1,500 UK SMEs and key findings include:

  • 77% of SME business leaders say they do not have the required skills to successfully implement new technology into their businesses
  • The report found that while business leaders value training and technology, time and money barriers stand in the way of upskilling
  • Only 50% of business leaders say they have a plan to address gaps in digital skills in the next 12 months
  • The report also found the value of technology isn’t clear to all business leaders, with only a minority seeing it as having a positive impact on increasing efficiency (39%), revenue (31%) and profit margin (27%)

The report also includes recommendations for business leaders and for those delivering the learning and business support ecosystem, plus case studies of UK SMEs investing in skills to deliver digital success.

SMEs provide great environments for talented workers to fulfil their potential through lifelong learning. If business leaders can adopt a ‘grow your own’ approach, then it is a win-win-win for the employee, employer and the economy. But there are some barriers to overcome – not least the time and cost investment and our report reveals how SMEs can chart a path to grow the digital skills for the future.

Jane Dickinson, Digital Skills Lead at The Open University

Great leadership combined with productivity enhancing technology is at the heart of our most successful businesses. But adopting new digital technology can be can be challenging, even for the most confident business leaders. That is why getting the right skills and training – focused on both digital and leadership capabilities, is essential.

Anthony Impey, Chief Executive at Be the Business

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