Lack of employee tech skills robbing SMEs of productivity gains: survey

Businesses are missing out on productivity gains through technology because of their unskilled workers, a new Australian Industry Group survey has revealed.

The survey released over the weekend found a lack of employee skills and knowledge was the second highest influence on decisions to invest in technology, cited by 60% of the 350 company respondents.

The impact is clear: 33% of businesses which invested in new technologies in 2012 reported improvements in labour productivity, compared with just 16% of those companies which didn’t invest in new tech.

Kate Pounder, principal adviser for technology and public policy at the AIG, told SmartCompany the lack of employee knowledge also affected future investment, with 80% of companies saying the lack of skills affected their plans.

For those companies which reported labour benefits, 40% said the main contributing factor was improved employee skills.

“High commodity prices have meant we haven’t had to worry about productivity declines, but that isn’t going to last forever,” she says.

“The other worrying aspect of the report was that we asked people if they thought they were ready to take part in high speed broadband. We’ve asked that three times, and this year was the lowest level we recorded.”

“It points to the fact that investing in infrastructure just isn’t enough.”

Similar results from the survey suggest many businesses are missing out on benefits sourced from technology investment.

The survey found only 22% of companies are looking to invest new technologies in 2013, down 10 percentage points from last year, while 26% expect to reduce investment – up from 11% in 2012.

As for confidence about high-speed broadband, SMEs are the least confident, with just 40% of medium companies and 47% of smaller companies saying they can take advantage of high speed broadband.

This is contrasted with the 70% of larger companies which reported they believe they are able to take advantage of fast broadband.

Pounder says the lack of confidence is disappointing.

“Many of the companies we spoke with in discussion groups said continuing to invest in technology helped them survive the global financial crisis,” she says.

For manufacturing and mining companies, this technology is found in automation services. For services companies, “it’s all about cloud computing”.

The disappointing results have prompted the AIG to call on the government for more support for small business in adopting new technology.

“We need a national workforce skills strategy, which recognises the skills needed in technology across a range of areas,” she says. “This became clear in our discussion groups.”

“We’ve called on the government to set up a taskforce to address the issue, and then in particular, think about training institutions can produce graduates ready.”

“There needs to be a clearer way for businesses to find out about new opportunities in tech.”

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