Over 80 percent of small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) in the UK are grappling with significant skills shortages in project management, as highlighted by a recent survey conducted by the Association for Project Management (APM).

The findings underscore the urgent need for increased investment in training and upskilling within this crucial sector.

APM surveyed more than 500 project professionals working for SMEs across the UK, revealing that 83 percent believe their employers need to enhance project management skills across their workforce.

This skills gap is a major concern, with respondents identifying ‘accessing enough people with the right project-related skills’ (33%) as the second biggest challenge to project growth, following ‘inadequate technology infrastructure’ (35%).

Also, both ‘investment in training/professional development’ and ‘understanding among employers or team leaders of future project skills needs’ were cited by 31 percent of respondents as key issues.

What about soft skills?

Soft skills, such as team management (17%), leadership (15%), communication and interpersonal skills (15%), and adaptability/flexibility (14%), were ranked as essential for successful project delivery. Despite the skills gaps, 70 percent of respondents acknowledged that their employers value training and development, while 88 percent stated that sufficient time and resources are currently available for project management training.

Professor Adam Boddison OBE, Chief Executive of APM, emphasised the critical need for SMEs to prioritise project management investment. “Our survey sheds vital light on the critical need for SMEs to prioritise investment in project management. While it is encouraging that most employers appear to realise the unique value of project professionals, it is concerning that 83% of respondents believe their SME needs to improve project skills at such a critical time with net zero, technology, and global events disrupting business activity.”

Boddison highlighted the pivotal role of SMEs in driving UK growth, noting that the 5.7 million SMEs are key to innovation and productivity. He stressed the importance of project professionals in delivering solutions for real-time challenges and called for immediate action to enhance project skills for sustained growth and success.

How can this change?

The survey, conducted by Censuswide, also explored ways to improve project skills in SMEs. Training and upskilling existing employees (46%) topped the list, followed closely by increasing awareness of project management as a profession (45%), recruiting more widely across different professions (45%), and offering apprenticeships (36%).

Tony Mulvahill, a consultant and trainer for project managers, echoed these sentiments. He noted that many in the SME sector engage in project work without holding a formal project management title. “Although these ‘accidental’ project managers know their industry well and are organised, there are areas in which they can benefit from a more professional approach to project processes and techniques,” Mulvahill said. He pointed out that SMEs often require support in risk management, change management, and time management.

 

 

 

 

Avatar

Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.