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ABS with Small Medium Enterprise

06 December 2005 – for immediate release

A new research project from Aston Business School in Birmingham has shown the importance of business schools linking and learning from small medium enterprise (SME).

There is little doubt that small and medium-sized enterprises are the lifeblood of the British economy. There are four million businesses in the UK and 99.8% of these are SMEs, employing less than 250 people. By comparison, only 0.2% of UK firms are large, employing more than 250 employees. SMEs account for 58.2% UK employment and 52.4% of GDP. The Lambert Report drew attention to the fact that SMEs have not been invited to work with universities and business schools to the same extent as corporate industry. Yet, we are in a world where knowledge is considered a critical resource and a source of competitive advantage for all business enterprise.

To address this, the Foundation for Management Education (FME) and the Business Partnership Unit ( Aston University) has funded research at Aston Business School to improve our knowledge about how business schools can work more closely with SMEs.

The first stage of the project was to investigate the barriers and opportunities for SMEs and business schools to work together. 74 owner/managers from SMEs in the West Midlands took part in the study. The participants in the study included owner/managers from the manufacturing, service and professional sectors, and reflected the diversity of the sector.

The findings showed the extent to which the SME’s are trading on the global economy, and the time constraints they operate under. The roundtables focussed on how the Business School could meet the needs of the SME’s and the use of graduate and undergraduate student placement schemes that can be made available to the SME sector.

It was clear that owner/managers wanted practical, relevant management techniques that would be useful in their business and impact “on the bottom line”.

As their businesses had grown and changed, some of them had found that they needed different knowledge and skills. A key priority was for coaching and training for management and staff, and there was a particular need to raise skills in managing people: One owner/manager said: “One of the big problems about SMEs is that as an SME grows, the people skills are actually needed much more than the technical skills – even in engineering and manufacture.”

Other priorities included leadership skills, succession planning, finance, entrepreneurship, strategic planning, marketing, and the various dimensions of human resource management, such as team working, motivation and delegation.

SME owner/managers said they wanted practical, useful models and techniques that could be applied in their businesses.

In response to the research findings, Aston Business School has been holding a series of management development “taster” workshops and seminars for SME owner/managers. These are funded by Aston Innovation Triangle and are free to SME’s in the West Midlands. To date, 80 delegates from 55 different firms have attended at least one event. Topics have included business coaching, innovation, team working and leadership skills.

Not only do these events develop management knowledge and skills over time, they are an opportunity for owner/managers to hear about the latest research and business models, to network with each other, and share knowledge and experiences. They also provide the opportunity for the Business School to understand the issues that face SMEs, and to identify practical and innovative solutions together.

Employable Graduates; Exploitable Research