Emma Jones, founder of Enterprise Nation, highlights the importance of promoting the benefits digital skills can bring to SMEs…
• What sort of things can be done to raise awareness of the benefits of digital?
Promoting stories of small businesses that have benefited from embracing digital is a good start. Then there's the opportunity to hit the high street and present small businesses with the benefits in a location that's accessible. For example, I recently attended the opening of the O2 Digital Hub in St Helens (Lancashire). Over the course of three months, small businesses were able to drop into what has been an empty shop and was kitted out as a digital bar to deliver training for local businesses on the power of digital technologies. The more businesses hear about and see examples of businesses like them that are benefiting, the more adoption rates will rise.
• How can SMEs make themselves an attractive employment prospect for digitally skilled workers? What sort of culture should they adopt in the workplace when it comes to using tablets and smartphones for example?
It's certainly about the devices on display but it's also about creating the right environment for digitally skilled workers - which isn't always the office environment. Digital workers can – and want to – work from anywhere, so it's about having an open mind and flexible approach and finding this talent in digital spaces such as Plotr, the digital careers platform (I should point out that I’m the chair of trustees of this company), or looking at students graduating from Digital Business Academy courses.
• How can they nurture talent in their employees if they do not understand digital services themselves?
By letting employees do what they do best and considering a financial contribution to extra training if the employee thinks this is required. Nurturing talent of digital workers is the same as nurturing talent in any employee; you want to create an environment in which people want to work, with clear understanding of people's roles and support for ongoing learning.
• To what extent do you believe it is the government’s responsibility to care for small businesses and make it easy for them to go digital?
The government does two things very well; it creates the infrastructure within which businesses can operate with confidence and it can shine a media spotlight on projects or campaigns. It can also help by offering small amounts of funds. There are a couple of specific things we'd like to see the government do when it comes to encouraging and supporting digital activity. First off, it needs to ensure that the £35 million digital framework is being spent with small businesses that can deliver effective training at a local level – consider digital vouchers as a way to raise the profile of getting digital advice. Secondly, it should partner with large corporates who have powerful routes to market and an appetite to give small businesses the digital skills they need to get ahead.