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Help to Grow targets post-pandemic profitability for SMEs

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 29 Nov 2021

A government-subsidised executive training course aimed at SMEs and delivered by business schools across the UK is hoping to help companies capitalise on the post-pandemic recovery and address the UK’s poor record on productivity.

The 12-week Help to Grow: Management course is aimed at those in leadership roles in SMEs and uses a mixture of face-to-face and online learning combined with mentoring and peer to peer networking opportunities. A similar course focusing on how digital technology can help SMEs will launch next month.

Anne Kiem OBE, Chief Executive of the Chartered Association of Business Schools and Executive Director of the Small Business Charter, told ICAEW Insights that the broad range of subject areas covered by the course would help those in leadership roles in SMEs to learn about resilience and strategies for growth. 

“The beauty of the programme is that it covers so many elements of running a business that there’s something for absolutely everyone: financials, marketing and how to train employees and deal with staff mental health during periods of uncertainty, sustainability and how to use new technology to best advantage,” Kiem said.

The course curriculum, which is identical across the country, has been devised by business school experts and will be delivered by members of the Chartered Association of Business Schools accredited to work with and support small businesses. Currently, 37 UK business schools deliver the programme and Keim said she anticipated that up to 60 business schools would be signed up over the next 12 months.

Kiem said the training was being offered following concerns in Westminster and beyond that productivity in business is lacking. “But talking to SMEs about productivity is meaningless. They want to know how to grow their business and make it more profitable. There is also a recognition that SMEs are the engine of our economy. In the past, some lip service may have been paid to that but now it’s recognised that they have to do well for the economy to thrive.”

Eligible businesses for the Help to Grow: Management scheme must have between 5 and 249 employees, they must have been in operation for at least a year and the person taking the course must be a senior leader or decision maker with line responsibility for staff. Charities are not eligible.

On top of online and face-to-face learning sessions, participants receive 10 hours of one-to-one mentoring and networking opportunities. “Managing and running a small business is pretty lonely but if you’ve got 25 other people who you now know quite well who you can sound out for advice, that’s very valuable,” Kiem said. The total cost to delegates of the course, which is 90% funded by the government, is £750. The scheme will be capped at 30,000 delegates over three years.

Kiem said the fact that the programme was delivered in short bursts would make it easier for SMEs to participate alongside a full time job. “The critical thing here is that this is about your business and it gives you an opportunity to step back and think strategically.”

Kiem says anecdotal evidence from participants on the course’ s predecessor, The Small Business Leadership programme, which ran until May this year, was encouraging, with many saying they would make changes to their business as a result of the programme. However, it was too early to say whether that programme had had a positive impact on profitability or customer numbers. 

Accountants who have worked in or with small businesses in the past and who are interested in volunteering as mentors to the scheme should head to the government’s Help to Grow Scheme site. “We know lots of small businesses trust their accountants for business advice and this programme can support accountants to support their SME clients.”

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