The Federal Government has injected $2 million to the Leadership 21 training program for small to medium enterprises so that it can open up to the public.
The funding means that SME owners can now enrol in the business management program, which was initially restricted to clients of the federal agency Enterprise Connect.
More than 160 SME owners and chief executives have already attended the program, which began as a pilot in 2011 delivered by Mt Eliza Executive Education/Melbourne Business School.
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Leadership 21 project manager Leeanne O’Connor told SmartCompany the feedback from the program had been great, with participants saying it had transformed their business.
“The program covers functional skills as well as leadership skills. A lot of the business owners don’t have a lot of time to work on the business as they are usually working in the business; this program allows them to step back,” she says.
Participants in the nine-month program receive one-on-one coaching as well as participating in “learning groups” where they can network and “tap into the wisdom of the whole group”.
Currently SMEs who participate pay 20% of the fee but they have to be a member of Enterprise Connect. O’Connor says the $2 million in funding will go towards commercialising the whole program and opening it up to all SMEs.
“The value for this program has been in the networking – from morning tea on the first day, the networking starts as soon as then – and people are already doing business with each other that they would not have known about,” O’Connor says.
“A lot of the learning groups are finding, even when the program is finished, they still meet.”
Melbourne Business School’s deputy dean, executive education, Professor Paul Dainty, said Leadership 21 addressed a major skills gap in Australian management, particularly in small, family-run firms.
“People running small to medium enterprises are often faced with the need to perform roles that in a larger organisation would be performed by specialists in areas such as strategy and finance,” he said.
“To take their business to the next level, business owners often need skills, knowledge and new insights, but their time is limited.”
Darren Doggett, business owner of Clarke and Doggett Business Concepts, said he recognised he needed to be more than a skilled tradesperson.
“As soon as you start employing somebody or engaging somebody or not doing things directly yourself, there’s an immediate need to provide good management, good structure and good leadership to those people you work with, to enable them to be the best they can be,” he said.
“This course has given me so many ‘light bulb’ moments.”