New research reveals that small to medium sized business owners in the UK are neglecting to provide staff with adequate training and development support, with almost half (47.6%) of those surveyed feeling that their boss doesn’t take their personal development seriously, and a quarter (27.90%) admitting to having never discussed training or personal development at all.
While the recession may have forced some SME owners to focus their priorities elsewhere, with the economy slowly improving employers need to place a renewed focus on providing structured personal development to avoid staff losing motivation and becoming unengaged, a scenario which directly impacts productivity, morale and ultimately the success of the business.
The Personal Development in the Workplace study, also reveals that the majority of respondents (66%) haven’t been provided with any kind of personal development plan, so are essentially working day-to-day without any long term focus.
However, the research highlighted that process doesn’t necessarily equate to happiness, as despite staff in companies of between 51-250 being 16 per cent more likely to have a development plan, staff actually feel more engaged and discuss their personal development more frequently in small companies of 1-10 staff.
The regional picture also reveals some interesting trends. Notably, that respondents in Scotland feel the most engaged at work, with 62 per cent believing their employer takes their personal development seriously, which is 18 per cent higher than in East Anglia where less than half (44.62 %) felt their personal development was a serious focus for their boss.
In addition, despite being the UK’s largest centre for employment and industry, London and the South East is actually one of the worst regions in terms staff development, lagging behind the majority of the UK (see report for breakdown).
Reacting to the findings, Jonathan Richards, CEO & founder of breatheHR, said: “The results clearly show a fantastic opportunity for small to media sized businesses to gain competitive advantage by spending time developing employees.
“The good news is that it needn’t cost a fortune and with relatively little effort they will increase productivity and reduce costs.”
The fund is the second round of the Employer Ownership Pilot (EOP) which is already giving nearly £70 million to companies including Nissan, Whitbread and GE Aviation, with projects ranging from extending skills training to local suppliers, to doubling the number of female apprentices. Government investment in EOP for rounds one and two now totals £250 million.
Matthew Hancock said: ”For Britain to compete we need as a nation to deliver the skills employers need. This is a unique opportunity for companies across all industries to secure their futures by addressing their skills needs now. ”I would encourage businesses – large and small – to be ambitious and innovative in their vision for how the fund can help them grow, from creating new apprenticeship programmes to setting up specialist training academies.
David Way, chief executive of the National Apprenticeship Service said: “While I am delighted to see many more employers offering apprenticeships every week, we welcome this important employer-led approach. This will help to achieve our ambition to see accelerated growth and higher quality standards for apprenticeships.
“The Employer Ownership Pilot will encourage a fresh and creative approach to stimulating employers to offer more opportunities to young people. This initiative will enable even more employers to collaborate and lead to the further expansion of apprenticeships. This is vital for ensuring employers of all sizes and in vital growth sectors invest in and benefit from apprenticeships.
“We look forward to working closely with UKCES, BIS and all of our employers in developing and delivering high quality apprenticeships.”
Royal Mail has brought together a group of partners to offer small businesses a range of essential, easy to use services, bundled into flexible, value for money packages designed specifically to help smaller companies find new customers and manage themselves more effectively. By bringing the partners together the company says it will be able to offer some great deals and help spread the cost more evenly across the year – something small businesses continually say they want.
- A promotional website or an ecommerce online store from website design and hosting company e.pageswho already have over 50,000 customers worldwide.
- Direct marketing lists of businesses and consumers from dbsdata
- Mail and print service from Docmail and email service from NewZapp
- Accounting software from FreeAgent
- Plus discounts on Parcelforce services
Packages start from £28 + VAT per month.
The packages will also help support freelance marketing consultants looking to expand their offering. Consultants will now be able to provide low cost websites and marketing to their client base whilst still adding value by managing the client’s content. Consultants will even be paid an introducer’s fee.
For just £22.50 per week – or £37.50 if both packages are taken together – specialists in health and safety and employment law will help clients to attain and maintain legal compliance at a fraction of the cost of employing their own teams. Highly qualified professionals will work alongside key personnel to demystify regulation and ensure legal obligations are met, without becoming a drain on time or resources.
On employment issues, each client receives their own, tailored contract of employment and handbook, as well as 24/7 telephone support. The service also covers defence and representation for employment tribunals – since the legal costs for this type of support from solicitors can run into many thousands of pounds, this proves real value for money if and when clients need to call on it.
For the same fixed price, Bibby Consulting & Support’s health and safety package includes a bespoke health and safety policy and risk management system, practical assistance with risk assessments, CHAS/Safe contractors and 24/7 health and safety advice, including onsite inspections and auditing.
This new services announcement comes just days after the release of the Better Business Survey commissioned by the Office of National Statistics. While the government is painting a picture that red tape is affecting companies less and less, the devil is certainly in the detail, warned Bibby Consulting & Support’s managing director Michael Slade. The report showed that this positive outlook is only reflected in the views of large companies. For those that make up the majority of the UK market, ie small to medium sized businesses, the challenge faced by regulation is still cited as an obstacle to growth.
Slade said of the new services: “It is precisely this type of guidance that frees up a significant proportion of the working week for owner-managers to focus on winning new customers, developing new products and keeping clients satisfied and loyal. And it is these areas of business management that are crucial focuses for employers if we are to be successful in turning the economy around.”
Slade concluded: “We know just how tough it is out there and it doesn’t show signs of getting easier any time soon so we wanted to do something for the micro market who are really feeling the pressure. This small business service provides peace of mind at a price that is both fixed and affordable. Where else can you recruit two extra personnel to your business for less than £40 per week?”
The biggest issue John Wilkes and his firm ANDS faces is the current cutbacks in the public sector. And while business is good at the moment, he’s well aware that now’s the time to prepare for a downturn.
ANDS offers training and recruitment services to local authorities and their providers. “We tend to work in the areas such as land maintenance, waste management, low level IT and – which is our biggest areas – parking enforcement,” explains John. “When I tell people we recruit and train traffic wardens, we’re suddenly their least popular contact. But it is a vital part of how the country works.”
John’s business model is to sign long term contracts with local councils with an agreement to recruit and train a certain number of people per year, either in one specific area or across a range of different roles. While never the staff’s employer, ANDS is also responsible for performance measurement and ensuring the staffing levels remain at the required rate. “So we may have a contract to bring eight people on board a year, but if two of those leave within that year, it’s our role to replace them.”
The actual recruitment of people is not that difficult, says John, despite the reputation of many of the roles he recruits for. “Our main purpose is more on the administration side – most of the positions require criminal record checks, and we need to be very careful that those we do hire have the right to remain and work in the country. It’s also in our best interest to ensure they are genuinely keen to do the job, because the cost of replacing people also falls to us.”
John started ANDS with two colleagues six years ago, when the local authority he was then working for decided to outsource the operations for his business. The trio would have either been made redundant or been transferred to a new employer, so they thought that with their knowledge of how the system worked, they should form a business and bid for it themselves. “The council was initially a bit unsure about using us – we’d done a good job for it but we were a new company. And while the first contract was small, it didn’t want anything to go wrong. It took us a long time to even convince them that we should be taken seriously. Even then, we didn’t get any preferential treatment, our bid was decided on its own merits and we were up against two other providers, each of whom had far more experience.” Fortunately, John’s business won the contract, and from that moment on, events moved at a rapid pace.
“All three of us had only worked in local government for our whole lives and we didn’t have any experience of running our own business, so it was a steep learning curve!”
Each partner put in an initial £20,000 to get the business started and agreed to defer salaries for three months. “Our start up costs weren’t that high,” explains John. “We already had the first contract so we would be working on that to start with, so we needed office space, IT and some funds to pay for recruitment and training costs.”
Even though its first client was a central London council, the new company felt that there was no need to pay the high commercial rents of central London and instead took a suite in a serviced office out in the suburbs.
“Taking an office in the centre of the city would have cost us at least a thousand pounds a week,” he says. “We now don’t even pay that a month.”
Once the first contract was up and running, the main priority for the company was to bring in additional business. “This first job was a good one, but it wasn’t enough to sustain the three of us in the long term,” explains John. “But we wanted to show that we were able to do a good job so we didn’t bid for anything else for the first six months so we could build up our reputation. Our timing proved to be good, as a number of tenders came up about five months after we started. We bid for all the ones we thought we could do, which numbered about 11 different contracts, and we managed to secure two of them. We were actually quite disappointed that this was all we got, but in the event it turned out for the best – we couldn’t have coped if we had any more.”
Since then, the business has grown steadily. With each contract lasting for an average of two years, the company has picked up a net average of three a year,
and now works for eight different local authorities on 15 different projects. The three founders are still part of the business, which has hired a further six full time staff as well as a number on short term or part time contracts for busy periods or when additional specialist skills are required.
“We’re not exactly millionaires,” says John, “but we’ve done pretty well and I’m happy with the way the business has developed. We’ve built ourselves a good reputation to the extent where we are now invited to tender for projects rather than having to push ourselves in. We’ve got good relationships with most of our
clients, and also with our suppliers, such as recruitment agencies and specialist training organisations.”
ANDS launched with a basic bank account from HSBC, and has never seen a need to switch. “We don’t see a lot of different payments go through, we are not a cash business and I can do almost everything with internet banking, so the actual bank charges are fairly irrelevant to us,” explains John.
One of the issues the company does face is late payment. “We only have a few clients, so if more than one wants to wait until the new financial year before paying us, it can really knock us out – this happens more than you think, there have been a couple of years when no-one has paid us until April!” The firm has an overdraft facility with HSBC for such an eventuality, though it has also built up reserves which, says John, can fund the business outright for three months. “Wherever possible we try not to use the overdraft because it can get expensive, but it’s a good safety net for if we ever need it.
The other key area for the company is insurance. “We’re an employer, so we have to have employers’ liability insurance, and we also protect our equipment with a contents policy. But because we operate recruitment and training schemes, there is the possibility of huge legal claims – we haven’t had anything of that nature, thankfully, but we make sure we have the right insurance policies in place if ever there was a claim.
Government cuts could have a major impact on ANDS, but any impact is yet to be felt. “We know that local authorities are cutting services and freezing recruitment,” says John, “so we have to prepare for that.” Because the length of the average contract is so long, the company still has plenty of business but they are keeping control of expenses and looking for new avenues. “A year or so ago, we started looking at what we could offer the private sector – perhaps recruiting and training security guards or other, similar, levels of staffing. We also don’t do a lot of training for people who are already in employment and that’s an area we should explore.
“But really it’s about keeping the contracts we have and keeping the costs down. One of our staff is due to leave just before Christmas as she is moving away from the area, and we’ve taken the decision not to replace her straight away. We’re going to batten down the hatches and ride out the storm – it’s better to survive than try too hard and lose the business.”