SMEs must adopt digital and automation skills in order to not get left behind, with the manufacturing sector noticeably lower than average when it comes to digital competency. This is according to a new report by MentorsWork which was published recently by the Small Firms Association (SFA), supported by Skillnet Ireland.
The research found that younger businesses are lacking when it comes to awareness and adoption of emerging technologies and its impact on business performance. The survey revealed that older businesses as well as those with 50+ employees were most likely to understand the range of emerging technologies and their impact on business and customers.
SMEs in the food and drink sector were least likely to be aware of emerging technologies, with the ICT sector ranking itself 17% above average when it came to awareness and adoption. The manufacturing sector is noticeably lower than average when looking at overall digitalisation and automation competency.?
The research, which surveyed 615 business owners, asking them to self-assess digital and automation competencies, further found that when it comes to protecting customer’s data, preventing ransomware attacks and other cybersecurity breaches, younger businesses see themselves as being least competent, with competency levels in managing these challenges increasing in line with the maturity of the business.
According to the research, older businesses of 21+ years, and those that employ over 50 employees, are over 10 percent more competent than younger businesses. Organisations operating in manufacturing, retail and hospitality are the ‘least competent’ when it comes to understanding and protecting against tech threats.
As many sectors look to get back on track post–Covid, it is the retail and hospitality sector as well as the food and drink sector that are most interested in adopting digital tools to help add to their customers’ journey and experience.
The findings from the research come as MentorsWork, the nationwide business–support programme for SMEs, launches its new consultancy offering. This years’ MentorsWork programme will specifically address supporting SMEs to navigate the challenges within their current operating environments including operating cost increases, price inflation, recruitment and retention challenges, cybersecurity threats and overall corporate governance.
The new consultancy offering will allow participants who have completed the 12-week programme to apply for hands-on consultancy services which will focus particularly on addressing SMEs’ digital and sustainability needs. The MentorsWork 12-week programme and the new consultancy offering are both now open for applicants.
Commenting on the findings of MentorsWork’s latest report and the 2022 programme, Elizabeth Bowen, Acting Director of the Small Firms Association says: “This year’s programme was designed to support SMEs in navigating the various challenges that are most prevalent in today’s market, providing hands on, tailored guidance around issues such as managing cost inflation, addressing recruitment and retention pressures, and protecting businesses and their customers against cyber threats.
“As the results from our latest report reveals to us that younger businesses are lacking when it comes to awareness and adoption of emerging technologies, our programme for the year ahead aims to provide some much-needed relief to our SMEs around the country. With the support of our mentors and consultants, we want our Irish SMEs to feel supported at all stages of their business journey. No matter the age, size or sector of their business, we are here to help.”?
Rachael McFarlane, MentorsWork Programme Manager, said: “Our MentorsWork programme, looks to directly support SMEs at every stage of their growth journey. Our team works with businesses of every age and size to make sure they are set up for success and aware of their options. In turbulent times, it is important that we are not putting our businesses at risk, and that we are fully prepared for whatever threats may come our way.”
MentorsWork is delivered by the Small Firms Association (SFA) in partnership with Skillnet Ireland. Launched in 2020, it is a nationwide upskilling scheme to help boost SME productivity levels, using one-to-one mentoring sessions, peer-focused workshops, expert-led masterclasses and an online learning platform with practical business tools.