Irish SMEs face digital skills hurdle, Vodafone study finds

Four in 10 employees uncertain if they have digital skills required for their roles

Sven Spollen-Behrens, director of the Small Firms Association, Regina Moran, Vodafone, and Louise O’Conor, Abodoo chief digital officer

Sven Spollen-Behrens, director of the Small Firms Association, Regina Moran, Vodafone, and Louise O’Conor, Abodoo chief digital officer

 

Irish small and medium-sized businesses are facing a number of hurdles, including broadening employees’ digital skills and implementing flexible work practices to help them attract and retain talent.

Some 22 per cent of SME employees said they do not think they have the right digital skills for their role, and a fifth are not sure if they do.

That is according to a new report from Vodafone Ireland, which is part of a series of research and engagement exercises the company is undertaking, called Open Conversations. Almost 600 SME business owners, industry representatives and employees were questioned about the business growth and investment, smart working, the impact of technology, and skills and training.

Only 59 per cent of employees said they felt their digital skills were what was required for their role.

When it comes to flexible working, 77 per cent of employees backed the new way of working, but only 9 per cent small businesses said they were fully embracing it. Fewer than half – 41 per cent – of employees have the option of smart working, but they are happier in their jobs, the research found.

“The game is changing. Employees increasingly want, need and expect this degree of flexibility,” said Vodafone Ireland enterprise director Regina Moran. “If we embrace more flexible ways of working, the quality of life for all can improve, and small rural communities can flourish because people can stay and work in their local communities.”

Gigabit hubs

Those flexible working arrangements could include working from home, or from hubs created in towns. Vodafone has invested in a number of gigabit hubs in areas such as Skibbereen in Co Cork, providing high-speed connectivity to towns, and plans to bring another seven online in the coming months.

Among the barriers to growth being foreseen by firms are Brexit, with 46 per cent expecting it to hit growth, and taxes and rates also likely to weigh on firms.

But despite the potential stumbling blocks – including Brexit, taxes and rates – the SME sector remained optimistic about its prospects, the report found.

Almost 90 per cent of SMEs said they expected their businesses to grow between now and 2021, with 60 per cent of employees sharing their optimism. Munster led the way, with 67 per cent of employees of SMEs confident about the future prospects of their company. That figure was 62 per cent in Connacht/Ulster, 60 per cent in Dublin, and Leinster (excluding Dublin) at 52 per cent.

Some 60 per cent of SME owners said they would invest in their business in the next 12 months. Most of that investment is to go on attracting and retaining staff, at 71 per cent, with sales coming in second at 64 per cent and technology in third at 57 per cent.

Technology is an area that is coming in for much attention, with 69 per cent of small companies planning to boost spending in the area within the next one to five years, and medium-sized companies more likely to invest more than €50,000.