Digital is changing our lives, our jobs, how we run our businesses and manage our money. This means that having the digital skills, motivation and confidence to use the internet safely is becoming essential for life and work. This report summarises research exploring challenges to equipping small and micro-sized businesses and sole traders with the skills to flourish in a digital economy, and initial recommendations on how to overcome these. Our focus is on those in disadvantaged areas or run by owners from disadvantaged groups.
The so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution is causing every part of the economy to go through a rapid process of digitisation. This offers small businesses great opportunities but also great threats. It gives the smallest companies unprecedented reach into new markets, a level playing field in sectors once dominated by major enterprises, and the ability to change the shape of how business is done. But it is also driving change so quickly that those left behind face going out of business. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), micro-businesses (employing fewer than 10 people) and sole traders which don’t engage in digital are placing themselves in an increasingly vulnerable position. Sole traders and micro-businesses are particularly vulnerable to these changes. It is therefore crucial that they get the support they need to maximise their sustainability and potential opportunities for growth through the use of digital technology.
This report explores how best to equip small and micro-sized businesses and self-employed sole traders with the skills they need to compete and flourish in a digital economy. The research focus is on support:
- to change small business attitudes towards digital with propositions that are actionable, relevant and peer-driven
- targeted on small businesses with fewer than 10 employees and small and community businesses starting up or established in disadvantaged areas.
The research fieldwork was undertaken in partnership with Anthony Impey who led consultations with business representatives from national to sole trader level. Our findings draw on detailed work in four geographical areas, an evidence review of relevant training and support initiatives, interviews with business support organizations working in this field, and 4 roundtables with small business representatives and national stakeholders. In total, 51 people were consulted.
Through this work we have built an initial understanding of what skills small businesses need, the range of current activity and initiatives to support them, areas of best practice and potential gaps for further exploration and innovation.