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Female-run small UK firms expect to invest in skills and technology


A major survey of female-run small UK firms has found the majority (82%) expect to invest in skills and technology as their business rebounds strongly from the pandemic in 2022.

The research from small business support network Enterprise Nation, the Enterprise Trust and TSB Bank, which surveyed more than 250 female-founded firms, found two thirds (66%) expected their business to thrive, leading to an increased demand for skilled workers.

But with 69 per cent of those surveyed saying there weren’t enough candidates with relevant skills in the marketplace, businesses are expecting to invest in training for their workforce in the next 12 months.

Emma Jones, CBE, founder of Enterprise Nation, said: “It’s clear female-run businesses have been struggling to recruit the right level of skills they need. A strong recovery coupled with an optimistic outlook over the next 12 months means they are rolling up their sleeves and making plans to invest to ensure they can hit growth targets.

“For many this is entering new territory and moving into training will require them to build new internal structures to make it work. Taking on and training staff is a key way to grow – and avoid burnout. This is good news and a sign of a resilient small business community maturing and rising to the occasion.”

Helen Booth, director of enterprise charity the Enterprise Trust, founded by FTSE 250 entrepreneur Richard Harpin, said: “Investment in skills is exactly what the UK needs to see as we move into a new phase of sustained growth in 2022 and onwards.

“The women leading these businesses are actively planning to invest in their workforce but they will need support and access to advice to do so. As businesses grow, the hunger for skills becomes more acute and if we miss this mark, the economy will suffer as a consequence.”

With the availability of skilled staff a problem, 63 per cent said they felt it was their responsibility as an employer to invest in relevant training, but 80 per cent admitted they don’t have a structured staff training scheme.

While the majority, (26%) said they planned to use relevant private training courses, another quarter said they would consider employing and training candidates from the Government schemes such as Skills for Life (23%) and 16 per cent said they would offer training via an apprenticeship.

Kay Suppamas, founder and CEO at Leafage, a London-based firm that works to support mental well-being through interaction with plants, took on a new employee in 2021 using the now-closed KickStart scheme.. With limited resources and time, it was a big decision.

She said: “I was very busy – but I also wanted to grow my capacity so I would be able to take on more work.

“We had the demand, but we also had limited resources as well as people. The KickStart scheme was really great. You get the money to train someone up as well as the money to pay their salary.

“It’s quite a risk before you know if that person is going to be a good fit. KickStart took that risk away.

“Obviously I don’t want to be a small business owner forever. I want to grow. Although I haven’t got any fundraising experience yet, I felt if I could bring someone on to help me run Leafage, then I could focus on growing the business and bringing in more sales and then the next stage could be fundraising.”

The research showed 46 per cent of female-led firms developed new products or services over the pandemic and almost a quarter (24%) changed their business model as a consequence. The majority agreed they used the opportunity of the pandemic to grow their business, but felt they were spending all their time on work.

While experience over the pandemic increased resilience (66%), half still said burnout was a major concern, along with political uncertainty (55%) and economic volatility (51%).