A shortage of technical skills is preventing many employers in the West Midlands from creating virtual offices, new research has claimed.
The failure to adopt so-called Third Generation flexible working could be restricting the region’s long-term technological development, states a report by independent forecasting think tank, The Centre for Future Studies.
The report, IT Skills for Flexible Working, states: “With four out of five SMEs (80 per cent) in the West Midlands now claiming to offer their employees some form of flexible working, it’s easy to see that the introduction of wireless hotspots, mobile technologies, and broadband have all had a huge impact on the way business is conducted.
“Technology is now so pervasive that we can scarcely imagine our working lives without it.”
“However, while many SMEs in the West Midlands have successfully adopted first and second generation practices, few SMEs are using the third generation practices where technology is fully integrated to create a virtual office,” it adds.
The report, which is backed by BT Business, offers new definitions for three different types of flexible working.
The first generation involves time flexibility – offering part time or short term working to employees, while the second generation involves both time and location flexibility; so in addition to offering flexi-hours to staff, technology is provided for employees to work whilst on the move. Finally, the most sophisticated and revolutionary form of flexible working, third generation, involves the emergence of the “virtual office.” Here, employees have total location independence and are given greater autonomy in the way they manage and plan their work.
According to the report, in the West Midlands, 62 per cent of SMEs say that they lack the appropriate IT skills and training to properly exploit their existing technology and therefore third generation flexible working.
It said that where firms were utilising the technology then tangible benefits were being delivered to their businesses.
“We are witnessing the emergence of flexible hours, flexible tasks and flexible locations. The technology to support this is available to businesses of all sizes and sectors in the West Midlands and is delivering tangible business benefits,” it states.
The IT Skills for Flexible Working report also looked at ways in which SMEs in the West Midlands could address the skills shortage.
The think tank said that training packages were easily available and at prices to suit most businesses.
Other key findings from the report were that 76 per cent of SMEs in the West Midlands did not provide specific IT training for remote workers, while 91 per cent of managers have not received any training on managing remote workers and are not familiar with the IT requirements.
In addition, 31 per cent are dissatisfied with the basic IT skills of their workers; 47 per cent are dissatisfied with the advanced IT skills of their workers and 41 per cent are dissatisfied with the technical skills of their workers.
“The future of competitive business for SMEs in the West Midlands relies on employers and employees having a good grasp of technology,” states the report.