It won’t come as any surprise to you if I say that successful businesses invest in their people. In particular, they invest in ensuring their people have the right skills and knowledge. In this day and age, we should all be upskilling on an ongoing basis. At Beyond, the companies we work with that are scaling the most successfully and sustainably all have skills training as a business priority. Here are some ways you can do that too.
Think beyond the generic classroom training model
Those company training sessions that are so perfectly parodied on TV may be a thing of the past (hopefully!), but that doesn’t mean that training isn’t still vital for your business. An SME should consider budgeting €2,000 per year per standard employee for training, and this budget should ideally increase as turnover grows. For your senior leadership team, the budget should be even higher.
To get the best return on investment, I believe in tailored upskilling rather than generic courses. These allow an individual, or very small group, to get face-to-face time with an expert to address specific skills gaps within the context of the business. This last point is crucial, as skills are so much easier to pick up and will be better retained when they fit with the processes, technologies, workflows, and culture of your company.
Someone who is already successfully running their business shouldn’t be stuck in a classroom absorbing preprepared material. They are too time poor for this approach, plus at that level they should have the budget for more bespoke upskilling. That said, in some contexts it can be beneficial to participate in group settings. Yes, you may know some of the material, but you can still benefit hugely from taking time away from the business to focus on things that you know need to be looked at but never find the time to do. Some people also enjoy the shared experience and accountability that comes from working alongside other business owners.
Find the right type of training delivered in the right way
I think the key here is to find the upskilling opportunities that are right for you. Individually or in groups, remotely or in-person, off-the-shelf or fully customised, what matters is the fit. There are endless options out there, but don’t expect them to come knocking; be proactive and seek out the right training fit for you.
Dig into your industry and find out what institutions, member organisations, and semi-states are working in your area. No matter how niche your sector, there will be some! Find out what upskilling they offer, see how it’s relevant to you, and ask about funding opportunities. It sounds crazy, but funding is not always flagged/advertised as you might expect so it may take more than a quick online search to discover what’s available. It’s easy not to be aware what’s happening in this area, so you may want to make it the responsibility of one or two people in the business to stay up to date on what’s available.
Find the upskilling opportunities that are right for you. Individually or in groups, remotely or in-person, off-the-shelf or fully customised, what matters is the fit.
It would be impossible to list all the training options available for all the sectors and industries in Ireland, so instead here are a few ways you could get started on upskilling.
Training opportunities from Skillnet Ireland
Skillnet Ireland is a business support organisation funded by government and enterprise contributions. Building skills is its core remit, and it works with over €50 million in funding annually to deliver enterprise-led, subsidised workforce development. Skillnet Ireland supports 21,000 businesses nationwide and provides a wide range of learning experiences to over 81,000 trainees.
What’s interesting about Skillnet Ireland is the way it is split into groups of businesses (or networks) likely to have similar needs because of their sector or geography. There are 73 networks across the country, for example, the Law Society Skillnet, the Irish MedTech Skillnet, the Animation Skillnet, and the Carlow Kilkenny Skillnet. Each Skillnet has its own website presenting the support and training it offers. You can apply to join a relevant Skillnet, although in some cases membership of other professional bodies will give you automatic membership of a connected Skillnet (for example, if you belong to the Institute of Designers in Ireland (IDI) or the Institute of Creative Advertising and Design (ICAD), you will automatically be eligible for membership of the Design Skillnet).
There is typically no fee to join a Skillnet and, once you are a member, you can benefit from heavily subsidised upskilling in the form of customised in-house training, off-the-shelf courses, briefings, seminars, and events. Because they are driven by the real-world needs of members, Skillnet Ireland networks really deliver on relevance. I think it’s well worth looking into which Skillnets might be relevant to your business and reaching out to them about your current and future needs.
Training opportunities from Irish Business and Employers Confederation (Ibec)
Ibec, Irelands biggest business representative and lobby group, has created the Ibec Academy to deliver nearly 600 short, accredited, and customised courses. The Ibec Academy seeks to “address the trends that are now shaping the future of work and the top management topics and challenges.” You’ll find a range of business and management topics are covered, such as remote and hybrid working; leadership; environmental, social and governance (ESG); strategy; innovation; diversity and inclusion; and employee wellbeing.
Special rates are available to members, and the Ibec Academy has a host of well-known companies in its client roster. If ensuring your employees have recognised awards is important, you’ll find that many of the programmes are accredited by organisations such as Technological University Dublin, European Mentoring and Coaching Council, Mediators Institute of Ireland, and Quality & Qualifications Ireland (QQI).
Internal training through a Learning Management System (LMS)
You can’t expect senior people to down tools every time a new person starts so they can spend a week or more bringing them up to speed with the business. A better way to manage this process is to pull together all the knowledge and materials and learning that new people will need and put it into an Learning Management System (LMS). It will take time initially, but you are building a scalable onboarding process that will bring great returns.
We spent around six months putting our LMS together. We could have outsourced this work – I expect the investment would have been around €50,000 – but in this instance we chose to do this internally. Now, new people can start at Beyond and be operational after a week. The system can of course be expanded as the business grows and the needs of the team increase – delivering content to colleagues as they progress in their career and take on leadership roles, for example.
An LMS might not feel like a priority, but it is a good investment that definitely pays off when done well. If your team is growing at more than single digits a year, there really is no alternative. There’s no room for loose onboarding in a scaling business; you need to know that people will hit the ground running, understand the work culture, be at ease using your systems, and know what to do and when. Until you’re big enough for your own training department, an LMS should be part of your scaling roadmap.
Ad hoc upskilling and training
Sometimes, our skills gaps are very specific and don’t warrant taking a whole course – tailored or otherwise. If you feel this is the case, it can be helpful to make a note of what these are and start addressing them one by one. Maybe you can set aside a time every week when you close down other work to focus on upskilling. Once you’ve identified the knowledge or skills you are going to need to grow the business, you can look for product or subject matter experts and consultants who can work with you to meet the specific gaps you have identified for an hourly fee.
You may be able to identify such people through your existing network, or simply look online. You might want someone local so that you can meet face-to-face, otherwise you shouldn’t have any problem finding someone to work with you remotely. If you don’t enjoy researching on Google (other search engines are available), you can head over to one of the freelancer marketplaces and hire someone there. We’ve taken this as-and-when approach a few times and have found it to be a quick and simple way to gain knowledge we required within the business.
EI/LEO training offers and programmes
Finally, don’t forget to check in with Enterprise Ireland or your Local Enterprise Office (whichever best fits your business type and size) to see what kind of training you can avail of there. Their offers are extensive and cost-effective although, particularly in the case of the LEOs, they tend to have quite broad relevance so do not always offer the contextualised learning you may be looking for.