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Calling All SMB Leaders: Help Your Pros Skill Up to Keep Up
By Leon Adato, Head GeekTM, SolarWinds 

Small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are certainly something to celebrate-we see this with SMB Week, Small Business Saturday, and the American Express Shop Small® movement. It's easy to get behind your local mom-and-pop coffee shop and the spirit of American entrepreneurship it represents. However, running and maintaining a small business comes with a host of challenges. In addition to competition from bigger companies, SMBs often have fewer resources than large-scale enterprises-in respect to both budget and workforce.

A significant workforce issue in particular-the skills gap-has been on the rise for several years. The skills gap affects nearly all industries and companies operating at both the SMB and enterprise level, but for SMBs, the skills gap often has a greater impact on business practices and success. This is especially true for the tech department, which drives many of the innovations and solutions keeping a company competitive. For SMBs specifically, tech pros are often forced to wear multiple hats, making skilling up and staying ahead even more challenging.

The recent SolarWinds IT Trends Report 2019: Skills for the Tech Pros of Tomorrow found 49% of small business tech pros are "somewhat" to "completely" unconfident in their ability to manage environments moving into the near future with their current skillsets. In addition to issues such as losing out on tech innovation or falling behind competition, risks associated with failure to close the skills gap have the potential to affect both employees and businesses alike.

How can SMBs stay competitive and productive when there's a lack of employee talent and skill?

Building a Bridge, But Still Not Closing a Gap

Individually, there are a few steps SMB tech pros can take to skill-up for the future and work toward closing the skills gap, such as taking a proactive approach to learning, for example. But the stakes are high: if in-house employees can't keep up, the logical next step is turning to outsourcing. It's likely the outsourcing company wants to own more than just one piece of the pie. By leveraging the insight they gain once they have a toehold, they can upsell more services, sometimes even overpromising what they're reasonably able to accomplish, but-in light of the skills gap in-house-the offer is tempting nonetheless. In this way, outsourcing companies often slide their way into a company and take valuable opportunities away from employees, potentially even their jobs. The impact isn't only felt by employees, though-outsourcing can end up being more expensive and complicated than meets the eye. For SMBs operating on razor-thin margins, this could be detrimental to the business overall.

Working in Tandem-Better Together

So, how can business leaders and management work with SMB tech pros to help close this skills gap? The SolarWinds IT Trends Report found that time and budget constraints are top issues that prevent skill development. Carving out budget for specific skill development and providing additional support to help balance learning a new job while keeping up with current tasks are all ways management can help tech pros develop new skills across the organization, ultimately achieving key business goals. Following a few additional best practices can help both teams work together to close this gap and ultimately drive the business forward:

  • Recognize the risk: First and foremost, understand the implications and business risks of inhibiting skill development. There's a very real, measurable risk (dollars and cents and lost talent) in not giving employees training or time to skill up.
  • Facilitate knowledge-building: Provide multiple options for staff to learn, including training materials, adequate time, and valuable resources. Truly listen to the team. If they're saying they need to learn something as a group, let them. Encourage through action, as well. Allow tech pros to develop skills on the company's time and dime, not their own.
  • Budget wisely: Watch your corporate credit card. Lack of budget often comes because businesses make unwise monetary decisions. Consider a company that got its budget for cloud migration from draining other departments of money set aside for special projects, training, or convention attendance. The hotshot cloud team significantly over-promised and were fired one year later for under-delivering. The company then brought employees on to be trained and to integrate cloud in a more realistic way-what should have been done from the start.
  • Enable healthy work-life balance: You must do more than just say you support work-life balance. The tech pros will probably be overwhelmed balancing their work to take on a completely new skillset with the many other hats they wear across the organization-they need to know you're in their corner. Living under constant stress brought on by uncertainty, pressure, unrealistic expectations, and long hours could have a deleterious effect. Prioritizing healthy work-life balance is key to both employee satisfaction and meeting business goals-when employees aren't healthy, they aren't doing their best work regardless of whether they have the skills.

Concluding Thoughts

By giving tech pros the small business network management tools they need to skill up, SMB leaders can promote overall business success and drive business growth. Closing the skills gap will enable the business to meet its goals and keep pace with competition. Following best practices such as recognizing the risk associated with not closing the skills gap, facilitating knowledge-building, carefully using budget, and prioritizing healthy work-life balance can help both business leaders and tech pros work together to close this gap and ultimately move the business forward.

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About the Author

 

LEON ADATO, Head Geek

Leon's 30 years of network and systems management and monitoring experience spans the financial, healthcare, food and beverage, and other industries, with 20 years focused specifically on monitoring and management.

Before he was a SolarWinds Head Geek, Adato was a SolarWinds software user for over a decade. He launched his IT career in 1989 and his expertise led him through roles as a classroom instructor, courseware designer, desktop support tech, server support engineer, and software distribution expert.
Published Wednesday, February 19, 2020 7:32 AM by David Marshall
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