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Leveraging training skills development in SMEs

The change in jobs and competences (e.g. green economy), the persistence of shortage occupations and an aging workforce are some of the challenges which our labour market faces. Against the background of innovation, trends and shifts in sectors, jobs, functions,¦ Flanders acknowledges the importance of enhancing the competences in Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs) in its policy to respond and anticipate on these current and future trends and needs of the labour market. Different studies and data demonstrate that SMEs are less likely to participate in training and skills development than large firms. Because of their limited scale SMEs often encounter difficulties to train their employees. This is why Flanders (Belgium), next to four other countries, participated in the OECD project on Leveraging Training and Skills Development in SMEs. This study aims to identify the obstacles that SMEs encounter and how they can be overcome. For the study in Flanders the province of East Flanders has been chosen as a case study region on account of its high amount of SMEs that represent a diversity of activities and sectors and of the existence of knowledge clusters (e.g. Flanders Biotech Valley). The quantitative survey, the qualitative interviews with local SMEs and the local workshop on training activities and the skills development in SMEs were all held in this region, contributing to a better understanding of the dynamics in and between SMEs concerning training and skills development. The survey results for East Flanders confirm figures about training in SMEs available in other databases. The SMEs owner opinion about the importance of training for business success is a critical factor in how relevant and important training and skills development is perceived in a SME. The study also demonstrates that SMEs in East Flanders know many spontaneous, informal but well-targeted initiatives. There are signs of œeco-systems, initiated by the entrepreneurs themselves, but not in a systematic way. This indicates the often hidden potential that already exists at the level of SMEs. This study uncovers challenges at two levels. A first and necessary step for further coaching and support in organising training and development in SMEs is by increasing awareness for the importance of training and development for business success among SME’s who are currently not scoring high on this topic. Secondly SMEs already concerned with training and development must be further supported and encouraged