Cultivating a growth mindset and moving beyond upskilling for SMEs

Professor Lee Wing On, Executive Director, Institute for Adult Learning

Embracing lifelong learning is a must for business growth. In the last decade, upskilling has become an industry buzzword, especially so when COVID-19 hit the globe. Companies have jumped onboard the “upskill train,” not only to keep up with the ever-changing business environment and market demands but also to equip themselves and their employees with the necessary skills to thrive in the future.

Yet, the more important questions lie in what follows upskilling and how businesses can maximise their benefits.

COVID-19 exacerbated the need for businesses to be adaptive and nimble to manoeuvre through the volatile situation and be proactive in driving growth. Here in Singapore, the upskilling movement has progressed rapidly in recent years, owing to various factors. Several government programmes serve as a pull factor for businesses to upskill their employees while they scale down because of the pandemic.

Businesses, especially small and mid-size enterprises (SMEs), were also prompted by the pandemic-induced labour shortage to realise that they would need to be even better equipped over this period and beyond.

Punching the SMEs’ ticket stubs at the station

The benefits of upskilling are well documented. For example, investing and honing an employee’s skillsets will make them feel supported and motivated at work, and provide the business with an equipped team to drive growth.

Additionally, it reduces the risk of businesses falling victim to “The Great Resignation,” which has been affecting several industries across the globe in recent months.

Taking a closer look at the SME sector, which employs about 70% of the local workforce and has a 43% share in nominal value added, there can be several “tickets” for them to hop on the upskill train.

SMEs can tap on Government support, such as the SG United Traineeship and SG United Mid-Career Pathways programmes, to kickstart their upskilling journey. Around 9,800 individuals had enrolled in the aforementioned programmes by end-2020, and about 3,400 companies also benefited from the SkillsFuture Enterprise Credit, which was introduced in 2020.

Moreover, organisations like the Institute for Adult Learning (IAL) work closely with SMEs in their workplace transformation journey. Thus far, over 80 enterprises have approached and worked with IAL under its Learning Enterprise Alliance (LEA) initiative and more than 50 enterprises have benefitted from IAL’s corporate training programmes.

However, despite the many upskilling avenues available to SMEs, there are still barriers preventing them from taking the leap. According to a recent report by NTUC LearningHub, one in two SMEs cite lack of budget as their main challenge when it comes to upskilling their workforce.

The report also revealed that employers need more training resources to tap (68%), more employee support (65%), and more government training support (55%).

If left unchecked, the above barriers can lead to business stagnation, which can cripple a business from the inside out. With the renewed optimism this new year and the Budget 2022, it is more pertinent than ever for the Government and the Training and Adult Education (TAE) sector to boost efforts in bridging the gap between rolling out more upskilling programmes and providing solutions that will motivate SMEs to utilise the available support.

A high demand for upskilling also comes with a need for a supply that complements market needs. Consequently, adult educators (AEs) are not immune to upskilling and the TAE sector has also implemented programmes to ensure that AEs possess the necessary skills to provide training.

Embracing the growth mindset journey

Upskilling is not an endgame, and growing a business does not end with ticking off the upskilling box in a checklist. In a lifelong learning journey to growth, both leaders and employees must follow through and apply their learnings to the job responsibilities.

Thus, what is more critical is to embrace and cultivate a “growth mindset,” which is based on shared personal and organisational goals and a belief that abilities can be grown through hard work, good strategies and input from others.

Adopting such a mindset boosts employee morale and creates a happy and healthy work environment in which employees are encouraged to actively contribute their best efforts. It also fosters more innovative thinkers and risk-takers, which is especially useful in a recovering economy.

Lastly, it transforms employee perspectives, by enabling them to reach their full potential at work and see themselves as vital members of the team.

Looking forward to the pit stops

Developing a growth mindset is easier said than done. It will take some time for its benefits to become apparent, but this long-term effort begins with small, incremental changes.

Reflecting on and evaluating current practises, as well as past failures, is crucial. Businesses must look at their existing processes to see how they can be improved to streamline their day-to-day operations. Training goals are can always be reviewed and it is important to conduct checks against the proposed outcomes and determine what can be further strengthened or cut back.

A future-oriented company values and welcomes the contributions of all its employees, and having rich conversations among colleagues is, therefore, a key step to generating rich ideas. There are fewer employees at SMEs than at large corporations, which may serve to the SMEs’ advantage.

Leaders of SMEs can leverage these close relationships and create avenues for dialogue where everyone is encouraged to contribute their ideas, thereby facilitating the generation of fresh insights and keeping the brain well-oiled.

Investing more in “soft skills” will also lead to reaping even better long-term rewards. More often than not, people tend to focus on hard skills in the upskilling conversation, but soft skills are equally relevant. In fact, having soft, transferable skills can help employees advance their careers and gain a better foothold in the workplace.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to upskilling and developing a growth mindset. Having worked with several enterprises, including Ashtree International Pte Ltd, Beyond Social Services, SingHealth Community Hospitals, TS Three Pte Ltd and many others, IAL stresses the importance of engaging key stakeholders to understand the enterprises’ needs and provide tailor-fit solutions.

Growth is a lifelong learning journey

They say that success is a journey, not a destination, and this is also true for businesses. The upskilling movement aims to cultivate and improve skillsets to help businesses, but what good is it if the learnings are not applied to the workplace and actively used for growth?

Practical application should accompany upskilling, and only by cultivating a growth mindset and truly embracing lifelong learning, can businesses see the positive, tangible impacts of upskilling.