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Supporting Entrepreneurship and SMEs: A Post-Pandemic Skills And Training Agenda

June 17, 2021
A photograph of a hand holding a glowing lightbulb rendered in a line-art style overlaid with blue and magenta geometric shapes and featuring an illustrated telescope in the lower left-hand corner

It is not an exaggeration to say that entrepreneurs and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) drive economic development, growth and innovation in Canada. Indeed, nearly 90 percent of all Canadians who work in the private sector are employed by SMEs.

That is why it is so troubling that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on entrepreneurs and SMEs, in most cases, has been much more severe than for larger organizations. Despite their importance, many SMEs are now on the downward slope of what experts are calling a “K-Shaped” economic recovery from the pandemic-induced crisis.

Supporting Entrepreneurship and SMEs: A Post-Pandemic Skills And Training Agenda, opens in new window, the final report in the Skills for the Post-Pandemic World, opens in new window project, analyzes the challenges entrepreneurs and SMEs face in meeting their skills and labour needs in a post-pandemic world.

Authors Tania Saba, opens in new window, Simon Blanchette, opens in new window and Catrina Kronfli, external link, opens in new window note that even before the pandemic, skills gaps and labour shortages were a top concern for SMEs. The lack of a unified language to discuss skills and competencies and a lack of clarity as to which skills and competencies are really needed by firms and their employees continue to be obstacles in addressing these challenges.

This report reviews existing research on SMEs and entrepreneurial skills, upskilling, and training needs. More specifically, it examines the particular barriers and challenges that entrepreneurs who are members of equity-seeking groups face, especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The authors also outline preliminary results from an ongoing survey focused on the skills needs of SMEs and a set of focus groups conducted as part of the same project.

The report concludes by identifying concrete steps that can be taken by a variety of stakeholders including governments, organizations, and service providers to help entrepreneurs and SMEs bridge skills gaps and overcome labour shortages. These recommendations focus on ways to improve human resources practices in SMEs, foster diversity and the inclusion of members of equity-seeking groups, and ways to better measure impacts. 

“The preliminary survey results and the results of the focus group discussions, paired with existing research, confirm that a multidimensional strategy that brings stakeholders together is needed to improve SMEs access to the skills and workers they need to thrive post-COVID-19,” the authors explain.

Specific recommendations include:

  • Increased support for SMEs with limited human resources capacity from chambers of commerce, business organizations and industry associations
  • The provision of more flexible and modular training options for workers
  • The development of shared platforms equipped with training and tools to improve access to diverse labour pools and to support skills development and career paths
  • The collection of more disaggregated data to assess the experiences of different types of SMEs, particularly those owned by women and other underrepresented groups.
  • The broadening of the impacts considered by funders and supports for SMEs to include impacts on communities and social goals.

Skills for the Post-Pandemic World

The “Skills for the Post-Pandemic World” series graphic featuring a digital illustration of two hands holding a pair of binoculars and facing a mosaic of line-drawings depicting digital technologies and tools

The Skills for the Post-Pandemic World project tackles key questions facing policymakers, employers, training providers and workers. It is urgent that society turn to face the fundamental changes in the labour market precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, and many players must rise to meet the new conditions of a post-pandemic world.

Building on the collaborative success of the Skills Next series, the Public Policy Forum, external link (PPF) and the Diversity Institute (DI), funded by the Future Skills Centre, external link (FSC) with new support from Microsoft, come together again to face these rapid societal shifts head-on, with research looking at the future of skills, training and retraining in ways that will chart a path forward as the pandemic continues to unfold.