MentorsWork report shows SMEs can benefit from the digital skills gap

Partner Content | Wed 16 Nov | Author – Business & Finance

There is a widening gap in Ireland between larger businesses and local smaller enterprises across all sectors, due to a lack of digital adoption. 


According to the latest report by MentorsWork, a Skillnet Ireland and Small Firm Association venture, reveals an urgent digital skills gap across all sectors, as well as evidence that older and micro-businesses hold the key to digital success – the values of adapting to a changing environment. 

The MentorsWork report consisted of a self-assessment from 615 business owners on their company’s digital and automation competencies earlier this year. The programme uses this in-depth assessment tool across four key business pillars, to create a tailored mentoring and development programme for Irish SMEs with between 1 and 250 employees. The findings of the report show the increased importance of concentrating on digital skills as we see the low scores in using best digital practices and awareness of emerging technologies. 

Digital business and SMEs

Micro-businesses, with less than 9 employees, have seen the most benefit of using digital collaboration within their industry to leverage their position, despite their size. The report reveals that smaller companies have higher digital competency, suggesting flexibility to the adoption of technology is key to leveraging the power of digital tools. Concentrating their effort in using technology to add value to the customer journey and experience, we see larger business struggle with this competency. Difficulties in rolling out adaptive tech measures and procedures may be a factor, as a larger workforce requires adequate training and upskilling efforts. 

Incredibly, a pattern emerges as similarities in digital competencies are shared between micro-businesses and established businesses.  Despite older businesses showing a lack of investment in implementing smart working measures (unlike micro-businesses) 21+ year companies also excel in understanding the value of digital tools, the positive impact they have on their customers and the awareness that digital collaboration within the industry is a key to growth.  Gained experience and insight would have undoubtedly contributed to these companies’ longevity, through understanding the need to adapt to new and emerging technology. Awareness and adoption of emerging technologies is something the report sees other SME categories struggle with. A booming tech centre developing in Ireland, has seen SMEs falling behind the curve and would benefit from knowledge around the latest tech trends available to them. 

Commenting on the findings of the MentorsWork latest report and the 2022 programme, Elizabeth Bowen, Interim Director of the Small Firms Association says

“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.” 

Support for SMEs

The MentorsWork programme consists of a newly added consultancy offering allowing participants who have completed the programme to apply for hands-on consultancy services. These services will be targeted at supporting SME’s digital and sustainability needs and will see consultants work with SMEs to generate effective and innovative strategies to help hone their businesses’ skills in these areas by providing industry knowledge and insight.

By far, one of the most important revelations from the report is the lack of cybersecurity awareness across the board with only the ICT sector naturally exempt. The size and the age of businesses have a massive impact, as older and larger business hold higher results indicating that perhaps exposure to threats plays a huge role to developing this competency. 

These results present a troubling gap in the Irish small business economy as we see an overall global rise of cyberattacks happening, targeting smaller and more vulnerable companies with less cybersecurity. The figures indicate that companies tend to overlook the need for preventive measures until they are unfortunate enough to be exposed to an attack. MentorsWork features monthly Masterclasses and Workshops to help their participants navigate through the measures that can protect their businesses.

These statistics display an immediate skills gap that could be affecting the SME economy in Ireland when placed in competition with larger business and corporations, as smaller companies are more exposed to cyber threats and struggle to keep up with the latest technology trends. 

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.”

Justification of spending cost to upskill and upgrade digital practices may be challenging but necessary if SMEs want to long term costs and give their companies a significant advantage over competition.  

The findings from the research come as MentorsWork, the award-winning nationwide business support programme for SMEs, launches its new consultancy offering as part of a 2022 12-week upskilling support programme, now accepting applicants.

MentorsWork is delivered by the Small Firms Association (SFA) in partnership with Skillnet Ireland and 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. 

To sign up to the 12-week programme, visit: https://mentorswork.ie.

Full report available here.