Association for Project Management
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APM survey shows that 83% of SMEs have ‘concerning’ skills gap in project management

Over 80% of small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) have been identified with skills shortages in project management and are facing calls to help tackle a lack of investment in training and upskilling, following a survey by APM.

APM polled over 500 project professionals working for SMEs across all industry sectors in the UK and 83% agreed their employer needs to improve project skills across the workforce.

The skills gap also featured prominently when respondents identified the biggest challenges facing overall project growth across the SME sector. ‘Inadequate technology infrastructure’ was the most-selected option (by 35% of respondents), closely followed by ‘accessing enough people with the right project-related skills’ (33%). A lack of ‘investment in training/professional development’ and ‘understanding among employers or team leaders of future project skills needs’ were selected as being among the biggest challenges by 31%.

Soft skills were considered to be the most important for project delivery with 17% of respondents selecting team management leadership (15%), communication and interpersonal skills (15%), and adaptability/flexibility (14%).

When asked how their organisation can help improve its overall project skills, the most popular responses were training and upskilling existing employees (selected by 46% of respondents), recruiting more widely across different professions (45%), and greater awareness of project management as a profession (45%) and through  apprenticeships (36%).

The survey also reveals that 70% of respondents think their employer does place value on training and developing or upskilling for project professionals’ while 88% said there is enough time and resources currently available at their SME to dedicate to project management training and development.

In terms of project management support across SMEs, over half (54%) of the survey respondents said they were the only project specialist within their organisation and 38% who said that their organisation has a dedicated project team.

Professor Adam Boddison OBE, Chief Executive of APM, said: “SMEs are the engine of UK growth with over 5.7 million driving innovation and productivity. But at the forefront of delivering growth and change for our economy and society are project professionals who need the right skills to provide solutions for tough challenges in real time.

“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.

“As SMEs navigate an increasingly volatile business landscape, the need to manage projects effectively becomes ever more important for sustained growth and success. By taking action now to invest in project skills, SMEs can streamline their operations effectively and help ensure projects succeed.

“It can be a tricky balance for SMEs when funding is needed in other areas, but having skilled project professionals at the heart of your organisation increases efficiencies and mitigates losses. As our latest Golden Thread report demonstrates, demand for projects to be designed, managed and directed by skilled project managers has now become a fundamental need for organisations, whatever the size.  As the chartered body for the profession, APM is committed to helping SME leaders across all sectors to overcome any barriers they may face to bridge the skills gap with support, qualifications and resources.”

The skills gap is defined as the disparity between skills employers need or find desirable and the skills current or future employees possess to meet job role demands. The term dates to the 1990s but long-standing concerns and challenges over the skills gap remain across all sectors, exacerbated by globalisation, technology and the need for more specialised skills.

APM’s recent Golden Thread Report 2024, conducted by PwC Research, found project management in the UK contributes £186.8 billion of annual gross value added (GVA) to the UK economy – a growth of over £30bn in the last five years.

The profession now employs an estimated 2.32 million full-time equivalent workers (FTEs), the report also found. It means 8.5% of the UK’s total FTEs are employed in project-related roles and the profession delivers over 9% of total UK GVA – a key measure of productivity.

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