SYNERGY – Harnessing the Learning Assets within the SME Business Community
(01.09.2014 – 31.08.2016)
On 3 March 2010, the Commission launched the “Europe 2020 Strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth” with the aim of transforming the European economy into a smart, sustainable and inclusive economy leading to high levels of employment, productivity and social cohesion. The strategy presents concrete actions to be taken at EU and national levels that (1) foster knowledge, innovation, education and the growth of a digital society; (2) make EU production more resource efficient while improving competitiveness; (3) raise participation in the labour market, the acquisition of skills and fighting poverty.
The development of the SME sector is the focal point of enterprise policy for reaching these goals as SMEs form the backbone of the EU economy accounting for 99.8% of non-financial enterprises in 2013. The overwhelming majority of SMEs, 92.2%, are in fact micro-enterprises, defined as those with fewer than ten employees and on average micro-enterprises throughout Europe provide work for only 2 to 3 persons. Despite these seemingly small employment numbers SMEs provided an estimated 67.4 per cent of all jobs in the non-financial business economy in the EU27 in 2012 . They provide two out of every three private sector jobs and contribute 58.1% of the total value-added created by businesses in the EU. Moreover, SMEs are primarily responsible for wealth and economic growth, due to their key role in innovation and R&D.
Developing a learning culture among micro-enterprises remains a real challenge that requires concerted interventions at practice and policy levels. In a rapidly developing and changing global market the need for appropriate, on-going interaction between businesses and education providers is critical. Empirical evidence confirms that management training improves company performance, productivity and profitability and reduces corporate failure rates (OECD, 2008) but research also highlights the low uptake of training by owner-managers of small firms. Reasons cited for this relate to (1) the time commitment required by participation in generic courses often of long duration; (2) the cost base of available training reflects the financial capacity of larger businesses; (3) available management training lacks relevance to the needs of small businesses; (4) managers of micro enterprises do not consider learning / continuous development as a priority (Forfas, 2010).
Owner-managers are the key to learning in the micro-enterprise sector and if engaged with management development there is a much better chance they will promote learning among other staff. Poor management skills and awareness of training needs are recognised as a problem worldwide in the sector. The OECD have singled out managerial weakness, inappropriate training offers, time poverty, and poor linkages between educational bodies and micro-enterprises as key factors in the failure of small businesses. Every year some 150,000 corporate insolvencies wipe out around 1.5 million jobs in the EU with micro-enterprise failures accounting for the vast majority.
The aim of SYNERGY is “improve the quality and relevance of VET provision to micro-enterprises to support the transformation of the European economy into a smart, sustainable and inclusive economy by developing and implementing a bespoke learning environment for vocational education professionals and micro-enterprise owners to ensure the development of micro-enterprises and to enable this dynamic sector realize its true potential”.
The objectives of SYNERGY are: (1) To support the development of a culture of learning within the micro-enterprise sector cultivating positive attitudes towards learning among micro-enterprise owners by ensuring that learning materials developed are relevant to their needs and appropriate to their learning preferences; (2) To support the continuous professional development of vocational education staff by providing a bespoke in-service training program that builds their knowledge and understanding of the business world and supports their work in non-traditional blended learning environments (3) To create a sense of community animating micro-enterprise owners and education service providers towards a common set of educational goals and objectives ensuring that service provision is tailored to address the needs of local businesses; (4) To design and implement a series of cost-effective, flexible, bespoke peer-to-peer learning micro-social networks to considerably increase the range and accessibility of educational services and supports; (5) To provide a suite of bespoke media-rich learning resources that address specific skill needs within the micro-enterprise sector identified through research with the target group; (6) To promote inter-cultural awareness and grow the potential for international business development for micro-enterprises by linking the on-line learning communities created in the different Member States.