Rethinking how Small Medium Enterprises (SMEs) overcome Skills Gaps

Report after report highlights the skills gaps within many sectors and most businesses will recognise some or all of the following:

  • Skills gaps when recruiting
  • Skills shortages when recruiting
  • Existing employees lack some skills and knowledge
  • Limited training opportunities within the business
  • A lack of succession training at all levels
  • Productivity needs to improve
  • Ongoing quality issues
  • Knowledge poorly managed
  • Information kept in departmental silos

It’s particularly difficult for SMEs to address these issues. Constraints include:

  • SMEs are often time poor
  • Training budgets are limited
  • A reluctance to release staff to attend training programmes
  • A reluctance to pay course fees
  • No suitable training programmes available for company methods and procedures
  • Managers are too busy to focus on learning and development
  • No Learning and Development teams
  • HR services focus on formal training and compliance with employment law only
  • No-one has the time and resources to support staff development programmes

Perhaps it is time for businesses to rethink how they increase the skills and knowledge of their teams.

One solution is to combine knowledge management, employee engagement and learning into one practical solution to improve business performance.

This is an overview of a learning and development plan that focuses on the management of knowledge; capturing, creating, storing and sharing information for the good of the organisation.

AA - Learning

Employees are supported, encouraged and empowered to participate directly in the creation and sharing of information.

It:

  • Has been designed for businesses who do not have the luxury of Learning and Development (L&D) teams.
  • Is also relevant for L&D teams who wish to increase the amount of learning and development that takes place outside of a classroom.
  • Is suitable for businesses from all sectors and includes the development of practical skills within engineering, manufacturing and construction.

Combining Knowledge Management, Employee Engagement and Learning


Knowledge Management

The focus of this solution is to improve the way knowledge is managed within an organisation.

Employee Engagement

Employees will be involved with capturing, creating, sharing and storing of information. This is important within organisations who do not have Learning and Development (L&D) teams.

Learning

All employees learn and develop their skills throughout the process:

  • During the capture and creation of resources by an individual and their teams
  • When storing resources
  • By accessing resources/information that is pushed and pulled from a central storage system

Section 1: Capturing and Creating Knowledge and Learning Content


This used to be time consuming and costly for many businesses. Today, low cost and free tools make it possible to capture, create and share knowledge as part of everyday tasks.

These are some suggestions as each business will have their own needs.

Capture every day resources – This is the game changer, we now have the tools to capture information from within a business. This could be a short video from the shop floor, an annotated photograph or pdf, audio recordings or a screencast of an admin task.

Existing resources can also be easily turned in presentations and teaching materials.

Harvest free resources – We now have access to a vast library of free, good quality information that businesses should tap into. This includes YouTube instructional videos, articles and blogs etc.

Harvesting information can be as simple as bookmarking important information such as guidance from the HSE.

Keep third party resources – Manufacturers and suppliers provide a wealth of information but often this is not captured, instruction manuals are kept in the bottom of a drawer and links to instruction videos are not shared with end users.

This is often the case when new software is introduced, informative instruction videos are not shared or hyperlinks are sent via an email which are soon lost and not seen by anyone joining the organisation at a late date.

Create in-house resources – Not all resources can be captured from the workplace or found externally and there will be a need to create material such as company policies and procedures. However now is a good time to explore new ways of producing engaging material. This includes the use of audio and video and alternatives to Powerpoint.

Purchased resources – It is also important to capture and share resources that have been purchased (subject to any licensing restrictions) such as access to technical libraries or standards and information from membership of trade groups or professional bodies.

Section 2: Storing Resources


At the heart of this solution is the introduction of a central place to store and share information. Most readers will have experienced the failings of information stored in the D or S drive!

There are a number of options, from a cheap WordPress site and Learning Management plug-in to an all singing and dancing Learning Management System (LMS).

The requirements will vary between organisations but here are some of the features of a central knowledge store:

Document management – Clearly good document management is important including making it easy to add and find content. Being able to set up groups to segregate users so they have access to relevant content is beneficial.

Wikis – For a number of organisations a Wiki is a useful tool within the central store. This could be used to capture acronyms and terms used within a particular industry. It may not sound that important but is valuable if you are planning to: employ talent from another industry, promote from the shop floor into a management position, employ apprentices or graduates, organising induction programme or have staff who need a reminder from time to time.

Creating a Wiki does not have to be time consuming as often the entry can be a simple hyperlink.

Directories – Directories of staff, companies or products can be useful.

Embed content > We highly recommend that the central store allows you to embed content >. This not as complicated as it sounds: you simple copy a short piece of code from a presentation or other software that you paste into your central store.

This keeps the user on a page in the store and they do not become distracted by other content. It can also helps to prevent resources being shared externally.

In addition it allows you to update content without having to login to the central store. Many presentation tools now provide the code as standard.

Hyperlinks – Most solutions system will allow you to add hyperlinks but it is worth checking.

Forums – Forums and chats also have a place supporting social learning or replacing inefficient email trails.

One product that meets all of these requirements is Kokm

Section 3: Share the Knowledge!


By capturing, creating and storing knowledge businesses will be able use these resources to improve business performance:

  • Learning becomes an everyday activity
  • Valuable information is easily accessible
  • Knowledge and skills are improved
  • Employees take more responsibility for their learning and development

Knowledge will be pulled and pushed from the store and employers adopting this solution will need to develop a learning and sharing culture. Learning is no longer a bolt on that happens four times a year in a classroom. Many L&D professionals are frustrated that the content they create is not consumed by employees so just capturing and storing the information is not enough.

Each organisation will find their own way of sharing information and adopt their own strategies to make it part of everyday business.

Here are some examples of how its use can support a learning culture across the business:

Peer to Peer – Managers may wish to encourage and support informal peer to peer training sessions where colleagues explore how to complete a task. The content for and from these sessions being stored in the central store for reference.

These sessions may only last 50 minutes and cover topics such as using formulas in excel, short cuts in word or practical tasks on the shop floor.

Self Service – Most people want to know how to do things and the store should become the go to place for information. This could be a reminder of how to put the telephone system in to night mode or how to merge data in the company CRM system.

Being able to find the latest company documentation will improve efficiency.

There will be an expectation that individuals will take some responsibility for their own learning and development.

Induction Programmes – The store becomes a rich source of content for induction programmes for new starters and those being groomed for promotion.

Newsletters and blogs – Information can be pushed via newsletters and blogs with links back to further content held in the store.

Forums/Social learning – As we get used to using social media, social learning may be an option for many businesses. Using forums to discuss a solution to a quality or production issue may not appear to be training, but it is.

Formal Training – The store will provide additional support for formal external training by giving access to company relevant content. It is also an opportunity to provide a blended approach to in-house training programmes.

Via Projects – Some organisations may use the store to save project information/meeting agendas and minutes. The store can be a resource for project information that increases knowledge of the teams involved.

It is important to make practical use of the store so that it is valued and not seen as a standalone training resource that is only accessed now and again.

Ad hoc instruction – There are many other opportunities to use the content such as providing ad hoc instruction, supporting tool box talks and content for presentations.

If you would like to know more about this innovative solution please contact Gerald Crittle, 07827 335918 geraldc@gacceleration.co.uk

About the author


Gerald Crittle established and managed at senior level the award winning training centre at Clarkson Evans. He also managed phase two of the Technology Exemplar Network on behalf of BECTA and now provides a range of Business Support Services. Please visit www.gacceleration.co.uk