Avoid digital dependency, strengthen internal training
The digital transformation has already been having an impact on many areas of small and medium-sized businesses in Germany for some time – but the corona-virus pandemic has now given it a further boost: Medium-sized companies are increasingly offering their products and services via Internet platforms. Working in the home office has become an everyday occurrence for many employees. Video conferences replace business trips.
In order to realize company-specific digital applications, companies often need the support of qualified specialists. Even before the coronavirus pandemic, the demand for information technology experts and knowledge-intensive specialists exceeded the supply: On average, it took half a year in Germany to fill an advertised position in automation technology, software development, programming or technical computer science. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in particular have difficulties in attracting and retaining skilled workers in knowledge-intensive bottleneck occupations. In addition, skilled workers in these occupations are on average more likely to work independently than skilled workers in other occupations. Finally, the entrepreneurial risk for them is low due to the high demand. Many of them also appreciate the advantage of being able to work independently, both in terms of subject matter and time.
The fact that hiring external, company-related service providers can be an alternative strategy for organizing bottleneck activities is evidence for the high dynamics in this economic sector. However, the scientists at the IfM Bonn are sensitizing people to the fact that they should not buy digital services exclusively: „Particularly when it comes to core competences, there is a risk that companies will make themselves dependent on third parties in areas that are decisive for competition,“ explains Dr. Christian Schröder, project coordinator at the IfM Bonn. „The business models of tomorrow will increasingly contain digital elements. It is therefore crucial for small and medium-sized companies to build up the corresponding competencies internally. The project manager therefore recommends that when working with external knowledge carriers – regardless of them being other companies, start-ups, service providers or universities – care should be taken to ensure that the company’s own employees are directly involved in the digitisation process, so that the new knowledge can be of long-term use to the company.
„In the course of the digital transformation, lifelong learning is of great importance. Through appropriate further training measures, parts of the workforce should therefore be enabled to carry out the knowledge-intensive activities themselves,“ emphasizes Dr. Christian Schröder. He welcomes the increasing number of digital continuing education platforms in Germany, as they give SMEs the opportunity to offer further training at low cost and in a targeted manner, thereby placing information technology knowledge on a broader basis.
The study „Labor shortages in knowledge-intense occupations – Reactions of the demand and supply side“ is available on the homepage of the Institut für Mit-telstandsforschung (www.ifm-bonn.org).