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How Scotland’s SMEs can develop in-demand skills

Many of Scotland’s small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) need to upskill or reskill their workforce – now more so than ever before, due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Open University’s Business Barometer Report 2020 shows that 60% of employers in Scotland are struggling to access the talent they need. Some report taking more than 26 months to fill vacancies with many opting to recruit temporary staff.

This approach is not restricted to Scottish employers – it’s happening across the UK. But it is a very costly, short-term approach, with Scottish employers spending £460 million to plug skills gaps last year. That’s a 60% increase on the previous year. 

“This short-term approach is not just costly, it is also unsustainable, particularly for SMEs,” explains Suzanne McQuade, Business Relationships Manager at The Open University (OU) in Scotland.

The Scottish Government recently announced a new phase of funding to enable SMEs (organisations with less than 250 employees) across Scotland to access training up to the value of £5,000 to support workforce development, to position them to respond to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, to adapt to new ways of working and maximise the opportunities to restart, recover and renew.  

A £1 million grant has been awarded to the OU in Scotland as part of the Scottish Funding Council’s Flexible Workforce Development Fund 2020-21: Phase 2.

As Scotland’s largest provider of part-time higher education, with over 50 years’ experience of providing innovative distance learning, the OU is uniquely equipped to support SMEs to upskill and reskill their workforce.

But what skills will employers want to invest in? “Digital skills are an obvious choice,” says Suzanne. “Even prior to Covid-19, there was a shortage of digital skills, and that shortage intensified in 2020, partly due to the rapid digitisation of services and products. 

“Organisations need digital skills and they need them now. Leadership and management are also vital, sought after skills which will help drive business change and recovery.

“And we should also not forget the urgent and ongoing challenge for organisations to be more sustainable and invest in green technologies.”

SMEs can choose from a tailored suite of training for their employees, 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 – whilst accommodating operational requirements and optimising business efficiency.

The OU in Scotland will support SMEs through training at Scottish Credit & Qualifications Framework (SCQF) Level 10 – undergraduate – and SCQF Level 11 – postgraduate – and through industry recognised or accredited provision.

Suzanne said: “At the OU we understand the many urgent and complex challenges facing SMEs currently, and we encourage you to be proactive and to take a long-term approach to developing your organisation’s talent.”

SMEs are advised to make an application as soon as possible, as access to the fund will be on a first-come-first-served basis. 

To find out more about how The Open University in Scotland can help your SME to develop a future proof workforce through the Scottish Funding Council’s Flexible Workforce Development Fund, visit The Open University’s website.

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