Queensland seeks to improve digital skills within small businesses

A new Jobs Queensland report identified both the challenges faced by small businesses and how the state might help their digital adoption.

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In a new report, Jobs Queensland has identified six fundamental areas to small business success, including digital and data skills. Queensland has more than 400,000 small businesses across all industries.

The state’s aim is to support digital transformation through expansion of existing programs, developing a network of trusted advisors, and improving skills and capability program and service coordination to help small businesses access the state’s offerings.

Skills and capability development areas within Queensland’s digital focus include:

  • Digital literacy and digital strategy.
  • ICT systems management and cybersecurity.
  • Integration of emerging technology.

Where digital creates opportunities for small businesses

The report noted the criticality of digital technologies to small businesses, as evidenced by the COVID-19 pandemic. “For many small businesses, technology has been key to surviving COVID-19 as e-commerce, ‘click and collect’, and other adaptive digital approaches have changed business models,” the report said.

A Jobs Queensland report from 2019—“Queensland Future Work Social Research”—found that for many small businesses, the cost of digital technology is a significant challenge, with six out of ten small employers citing this as their main reason for not adopting. And the current report noted that the pandemic has only worsened the digital divide between large and small businesses, as many small businesses lost revenue during the lockdowns.

The report cited several ways digital capabilities could help small businesses operate better:

  • Using digital tools such as quotation and invoice generation software could save businesses 10 hours a week of overhead effort.
  • Using social media and websites to reach more customers in new markets could boost revenue an average of 27% a year.

But there are also the risks attached to the use of digital methods, including the costs of the technology, staff training, and selecting the right technology. Also, many small and medium business are concerned about cyberattacks (35%), but only a small portion (8%) have a lot of knowledge of cyberattacks and security.

Digital skills gaps across industries

The report identified where there are gaps in digital skills across various industries, including:

Construction: improving digital skills and understanding data, especially for cloud technologies and platforms.

Retail, hiring, and real estate: e-commerce capabilities and use of digital platforms for marketing and transactions.

Professional, scientific, and technical services: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) capabilities and higher-level digital skills, as well as digital literacy and advanced risk management capabilities to build strongly cybersecure and resilient businesses.

Agriculture, forestry, and fishing: digital and technical capabilities to maximise the use of technologies and scientific developments in agriculture.

Transport, postal, and warehousing: digital capabilities that enable the use of new technology and improve access for customers.

Retail trade: digital skills and knowledge of website interface technology to support the growth of online retailing, as well as e-commerce skills for adopting new payment platforms.

What is recommended to achieve the necessary digital skills

In the new report, Jobs Queensland made six recommendations, two of which focus on digital skills:

  • Improve access: Facilitate enhanced access to skills and capability development through vocational education and training.
  • Provide a trusted advisor: Support digital transformation through expanding existing programs and developing a network of trusted advisors.

To improve access, the report recommends a whole-of-business access to digital skills and capability development programs targeted to the specific needs of the small business. These may sit outside of accredited vocational education offerings.

One issue the report found was that small businesses don’t have access to trusted advisors, often instead getting advice from a technology provider interested in selling their software. “Access for small business owners and managers to unbiased advice and assistance with developing and implementing a digital transformation plan could support the uptake of digital technologies and reskilling/upskilling of workers,” the report said.

The report suggests “a range of approaches to providing that advice and building digital capacity within small businesses”. One approach could be adapting or extending existing programs to incorporate the provision of trusted advice to support digital transformation. Another approach could involve investing in building a network of trusted advisors through developing the capacity of industry associations, regional organisations, and local networks to the range of advisory options available.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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