Why successful SMEs need to go beyond technical training



Smaller companies tend to focus exclusively on technical training

Technical skills (AKA “hard skills”) are job-specific competencies that every employee in a given role needs to possess. They include skills like how to use a specific machine, software system, or process. They also include higher skilled competencies like knowledge of law for a paralegal, or medicine for a doctor.

And all too often, employees find that if they want access to training that goes beyond these technical skills, they need to work for large company. It’s not that smaller companies don’t value training – but the training they offer tends to focus on the hard skills mentioned above.


That’s partly because ROI for technical skills is easy to measure

A 2011 CIPD study of 600 organisations showed that 78% of managers had less money to spend on training than they’d had in the previous year. Managers in SMEs (“small to medium enterprises” – i.e. companies with 10-150 employees) often feel that they just don’t have the budget to offer a lot of training. Nor do they feel that they can afford the time that training would take away from otherwise productive employees.


Which is no doubt why SMEs offer 50% less training overall than large firms. It also explains why any training they do offer needs to have a high – and very clearly demonstrated – return on investment (ROI).

Technical skills, by their nature, have results that are easy to test and measure. For example, imagine that an employee doesn’t know how to use a multimillion-dollar machine and somehow breaks it. The financial costs – in machine downtime, lower productivity for the rest of the team, and repair costs – are obvious and immediate.


Unfortunately, technical training isn’t enough for a productive workforce Of course, hard skills are essential, but they’re not the only skills that your employees need. There’s a whole deeper class of competencies – often known as “soft skills” – which include:

  • Communication (for example, interpersonal communication, presentations skills for pitching to customers, etc.)

  • Leadership

  • Conflict management

  • Teamwork And while some executives might argue that rank-and-file employees can scrape by without these skills; the managers who lead those employees can’t. The consequences of leaders with poor soft skills in your company are twofold:

  • Firstly, if your managers can’t clearly communicate the company’s vision and direction, your employees will end up confused and uncertain. Rather than all working together and contributing to moving the company in the desired direction, they can end up each heading in their own direction. That can bring the business as a whole to a standstill – or even have it moving backwards.

  • Secondly, it can create disengaged employees, which in turn can result in increased turnover. I covered this in my post about the high cost of poor management. As a reminder: employee turnover may cost up to 50% of the annual salary of the employee you’re losing. That kind of expense quickly adds up.

Soft skill ROI may be harder to measure, but it’s there

The results of improving your managers’ (and possibly, your entire workforce’s) soft skills will vary according to the specific skill being taught. For a start, training in presentation skills can help your sales staff to pitch more effectively to customers. This alone can have a massive – and clearly measurable – effect on your business’s bottom line.

Other potential results you might see include:

  • A more dynamic working culture:training in taking ownership, self-motivation and effective communication can lead to a more engaged, more productive workforce that simply gets more done.

  • Reduced staff turnover:leadership and communication training can of course result in employees who are more engaged (and thus less likely to leave).

  • Fewer customer complaints: better collaboration, communication and problem solving can lead to better product quality (and customer service), which in turn can flow on to more repeat sales.

Is it time to take your employees beyond simple technical skills?


My new book “How to Make Yourself Promotable” offers employees at all levels a step-by-step framework for developing several kinds of soft skills.

Or, if you’d like to find out about more hands-on training, MetaMind offers targeted soft skills training and workshops

MetaMind Pte Ltd, c/o WorkCentral, 190 Clemenceau Ave, #06–08, Singapore 239924

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