Skills shortage holding back small business growth

SMALL firms are being held back by a lack of skills in the workforce, according to new research.

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) said it is hampering the ambitions of smaller companies, two-thirds of which aspire to grow with the next three months.

The latest FSB Small Business Index (SBI) found growth and investment intentions had reached a new high since the data started in 2010.

However, it said there was "increasing concern around the cost and availability of workers with the rights skills" with 35.4 per cent of members saying this is a barrier to growth.

FSB's policy chairman in Northern Ireland Wilfred Mitchell said the findings of the research was "highly positive and should be encouraging to our local policymakers, through demonstrating the major role that small businesses play in the growth of the local economy".

"This quarter's SBI shows the highest ever number of firms planning to invest in their business. Nearly one third of businesses (32 per cent) plan to increase capital investment over the next 12 months. The balance of firms that have employed new staff in their firms has risen to 8.9 per cent, a sharp increase from 2 per cent reported 12 months ago," he said.

Mr Mitchell said the findings around a lack of skills was "particularly timely given the announcement by Ulster University last week of a significant reduction in higher education places due to budget cuts from the Department of Employment and Learning.”

“It is vital that the Northern Ireland Executive continues to develop the right environment to support businesses planning to grow, invest and take on new staff in the next 12 months. In terms of recent budget discussions in Northern Ireland, this research clearly demonstrates that Northern Ireland politicians should make supporting small business growth a number one priority as a vital method in redressing current economic concerns," he added.


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