For most small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) active in high-tech domains, it is highly difficult to find, attract and retain highly skilled individuals. In addition, SMEs typically cannot afford significant training costs requiring long periods of absence of their staff. However, upskilling and reskilling is of key importance for them, as rapid technological developments quickly make existing knowledge and skills obsolete. New online training developments offer promising opportunities in this respect.
Online training here refers to a wide range of new digital learning solutions related to bespoke and off-the-shelf e-learning, including video content, mobile learning, MOOCs, and more recently virtual/augmented reality, gamification, AI solutions etc. Online training can provide a more cost-effective and efficient way to educate staff. It has already become an invaluable resource for most established, large-scale businesses. At the same time, the adoption of new online training solutions by European SMEs happens at a slow pace. In order to stay competitive in this rapidly changing world, SMEs need to embrace the learning revolution and develop a culture of learning. The opportunities that online training offers to SMEs need to be further explored and promoted.
New initiative of the European Commission
To this end, the Executive Agency for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (EASME) and the Directorate General for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs (DG GROW) of the European Commission have launched a new initiative (2018-2019) on “Promoting Online Training Opportunities for the Workforce in Europe”. It aims to explore the role of online training in tackling the skills-related challenges in Europe, with a particular focus on high-tech SMEs. It implies performing an extensive state-of-play analysis, developing a common vision towards 2030 and formulating recommendations for action and supporting measures and a tentative roadmap. This work is facilitated by a service contract which is coordinated by PwC EU Services in collaboration with the European Distance and E-Learning Network (EDEN) and Espace Mendès France.
Key issues that are addressed by this initiative include the following:
- What exactly needs to be done and by whom to stimulate the uptake of online training by SMEs?
- How should the funding of online training-related initiatives for the workforce be organised?
- How can online training best complement other more traditional forms of training?
- What are the most promising ways of reaching out to the workforce, particularly within SMEs, to engage them into online training?
Progress and key findings so far
Based on extensive desk-research, in-depth interviews with representatives of different stakeholders and policy makers from Member States, two expert workshops (four more are planned) and an online survey disseminated among practitioners and industry professionals all over Europe, the main barriers for European SMEs to adopt new online solutions were identified. The most prominent barriers proved to be related to a general lack of company learning strategy, as well as a lack of awareness of opportunities offered by online training among both employers and employees. Furthermore, the relative immaturity and fragmentation of the offer was confirmed, with still too little investment available to develop highly successful training solutions. These outcomes indicate the need to promote the importance of learning among SMEs, while also highlighting a key role of supporting greater innovation, large scale pilots and new business models, start-ups and more private investment combined with more relevant public funding and incentives schemes.
The key measures at the EU and national levels that were suggested for tackling the abovementioned barriers refer to developing centralised online platforms that would offer information on the opportunities and benefits of online training for SMEs, good practice examples, as well as an opportunity to share experiences with peers. It is also necessary to strengthen communities of practice for companies engaged or considering engaging in online training, where good practices and experiences can be exchanged by companies themselves.
One of the key preliminary conclusions is that existing policies and programmes have been mainly supply- and led by academia, while there is a clear need for demand- and industry led initiatives. The latter imply initiatives aiming at providing SMEs with much better solutions, information and guidance and at increasing their interest, benefits and motivation to use new and relevant online training platform.
Expert workshop at OEB 2018
At this year’s OEB, an expert workshop will be held to discuss proposals for support measures to stimulate the development and uptake of online training by SMEs. The workshop will feature good practice examples and practical illustrations of the proposed solutions. The workshop will bring together hands-on practitioners and industry professionals, including course developers, publishers and vendors, as well as facilitators and policy makers, with a shared interest in technology-enhanced learning. Specifically, expert contribution will help us further develop a bold common vision towards 2030 in the field of online training for SMEs.
Kristina Dervojeda and André Richier will facilitate the expert workshop on Wednesday, December 5.