“Among the various sectors, the manufacturing sector had the highest proportion (90 per cent) of firms that faced challenges in developing their workers’ skills” (Most SMEs Say They Can’t Send Workers for Skills Training, Angela Teng).
Absent from the discourse about skills training in the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are the benefits for both the workers and the companies, in improving labour productivity, in increasing retention and advancement opportunities in the same workplace, and in enhancing long-term growth prospects. Far too often – as it is with the latest SME Development Survey, which found that 85 per cent of the SMEs surveyed said they were “hindered in their efforts to upgrade the skills of their workforce” (TODAY, Nov. 3) – the emphasis remained on the costs of skills training to the company, and framed in terms of the lack of time and capacity, other priorities, and the impact on the “day-to-day operations of their company”.
In this vein, in the same survey findings, it should come as no surprise that these companies also had problems hiring young staff because of “an inability to meet the expectations of these workers [and] that the work environment is not challenging”. Cognisant of the threats of technological disruption and job obsolescence, young workers need to acquire and update future-proof skill-sets which are best imparted through continuing education and training as well as a competitive workplace. Since SMEs now struggle to offer either, young workers are consequently not drawn to them.
Of course, workers themselves are partly responsible for retraining or upgrading, yet an alignment with employers could yield more efficient results. After all, workers must apply what is learnt in the classroom to the demands of the workplace.
Perhaps a more constructive endeavour would be to convince SMEs of the quantitative importance and benefits of skills training. In other words, information about the financial gains of a well-trained workforce – for a company, specifically – could convince more employers to make the investments, or to take advantage of government subsidies and schemes. For many employers at the moment, their desire to improve productivity without making the necessary sacrifices to allow their workers to upgrade their skills appear short-sighted and even contradictory. The urgency to do otherwise, especially in an increasingly-competitive global environment, has never been as intense.
A version of this article was published in TODAY.