Survey: Skill gaps are top pandemic challenge for 1 in 5 small businesses

Ryan Golden

Dive Brief:

  • One in five small business leaders and one in three midsize business leaders surveyed in June by small-business software review service GetApp cited a lack of employee skills as their biggest challenge in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Business shifts caused by the pandemic changed required skill sets for 84% of the businesses in the survey, GetApp said in a statement. This has apparently led to increased emphasis on training: 61% of respondents said they would increase their training budgets in response to the pandemic.
  • The biggest skill need, cited by more than one-third of respondents, is network management. Thirty percent said web and app development was their top skill need, while 29% said it was social media marketing. The company surveyed 577 leaders of North America-based businesses with between two and 500 employees.

Dive Insight:

Recent research shows U.S. small businesses have begun a gradual, if not limited, recovery process following the tumultuous early stages of the pandemic.

Employment data from Paychex and IHS Markit recorded a dramatic decline in small business employment beginning in April when the impact of public health measures led to the firms’ Small Business Job Index dropping to levels “consistent with rates seen in 2009 during the financial crisis.” In June, however, the Society for Human Resource Management found in a survey that 52% of small businesses expected to return to the same level of profitability as they had attained prior to the pandemic in six months or less.

As the landscape shifts, several observers have noted the impact COVID-19 has had on employers’ perceptions of skills gaps and shortages. An April report from the nonprofit National Skills Coalition found that digital skills were particularly lacking among those working in essential industries like health and social work, retail and hospitality. A Microsoft executive said in a June statement that the pandemic “has shined a harsh light” on a widening global skills gap as the company announced an initiative to improve digital skill sets for 25 million people worldwide by the end of the year.

In its analysis, GetApp recommended that small businesses turn to microlearning platforms to train employees on immediate needs. Employers might also allow workers to spread their time across different teams within the organization, which “allows them to gain hands-on experience practicing multidisciplinary skills, and allows your business to focus more effort on what’s important,” the company said. The trend might apply to what employers are already doing, particularly since employees have increasingly tuned in to online learning in recent months.

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