Our assets – not one of us are digital natives.
Turns out us people working in SME’s are quite important. According to the Federation of Small Businesses, SMEs account for three-fifths of the employment and around half of the turnover in the UK private sector today. Something surprising is when you look at what support there is out there for us to develop our business and people.
Yesterday, Lloyds Banking Group launched the 2019 edition to the business digital index. This resource is the largest measure of digital capability and skills for the UK small business and charities. In short, it’s an interesting read if you are concerned with how our workforce will cope with changing technology in the future and how businesses of any size and purpose will survive or thrive in this brave new world.
As someone who has been part of small businesses for all my life, and with parents who have been in business for over 50 years, one of the most alarming findings is that small businesses under three years old are more digitally capable, with nearly two-thirds (63%) having the highest level of digital capability; far outweighing their older counterparts.
Almost three-quarters (73%) of younger small businesses have a Facebook page compared to just over half (53%) of older firms. They also have loftier ambitions; not only are they more aware of virtual reality, connected devices and Artificial Intelligence, but they are also seeking opportunities to implement where relevant. This takes business development far higher than just the necessary evil of QuickBooks and compulsory tax online.
But as with all problems, there is an opportunity. One to upskill and grow. And this is the bit that interests and frustrates me the most. There is a reason that our social enterprise, that reinvests 100% of our profits into supporting people to improve their lives through informal learning, is called Starting Point. Because it is becoming quite clear that people talking about these issues aren’t fully sure of the real starting point.
This year we have employed three apprentices, on far more than the suggested wage for an apprentice (another story for another day) and with the real prospect of full-time employment afterwards. This sadly has to be stated because again, a starting point within the corporate sector is that not all employers sign up to this level of commitment in work training, and that needs to change. All three apprentices are under 19, bright and an asset to our business. Surely, they are our future? Their generation is sometimes referred to as digital natives, which is something I would strongly argue doesn’t exist. People born with technology and who are fearless to embrace change. The truth is that none of them can use email. They have left school without the necessary skills to prosper in the workplace and now that responsibility is with us. They have an email account, or a few actually, to set up Facebook and Snapchat but they don’t use them, or even remember their passwords. This is our starting point.
They can’t access their online portal from their training provider because they don’t know to verify their email address. They don’t understand about tax and NI because they don’t open their electronic wage slips, so when we are starting here how can we expect that they will bring our 50-year-old business into the tech age? Simply put we can’t. So again, yet more responsibility is put onto us, as a small employer, to support them to learn the skills they need before they get to a point of formal learning. In a time where digital by default is both impacting our business and saving the government millions; we have more strain to support those that will be left behind. Small businesses are at breaking point and it is time for larger organisations in our sector to share resources with us. It is also time for the government to acknowledge the pressure and invest in us. So our demand for our next PM is:
- Support organisations who know how to support us with digital skills. Good Things Foundation is leaders in this.
- Ensure that ISPs invest in commercial areas so we can have fit for purpose broadband. The fact that we had to invest over £2000 to get fibre to our shop is not acceptable.
- Provide free accounting software and a responsive PAYE system.
- Influence large businesses to work with us to support our staff to grow.
So, as we journey back from London, after a hugely inspiring day at The Digital Evolution conference, our focus turns again to how we can fight to keep the high street open despite the growing trend to buy online. We know that our unique selling point is our wonderful staff. Buying from us is an experience and we know we make people smile. That is the gift our staff offer, despite not being able to verify a new online registration!