Keith Marshall examines how acquiring entrepreneur and business development techniques can significantly boost competitive edge in the economic downturn

The importance of successfully promoting a business, winning new customers, managing workload and supervising a loyal workforce seem to be greatly undervalued in m&e, and in the building services engineering sector as a whole.

During the extensive research and consultation that SummitSkills carried out as part of our Sector Skills Agreement, we asked companies whether they engaged in business and management training for their staff. Worryingly, more than 40% said they did not.

It was generally assumed by this group that effective craftspeople, whose technical abilities enable them to excel in their day-to-day activity, also possess the business skills to become competent business and staff managers. This view means that people are given no development training on promotion, which could ultimately compromise the performance of the company, affecting its productivity and prosperity.

In today’s challenging economic climate, it has never been more important to address the issue of training and the impact this can have on the bottom line. Investing in entrepreneur and business techniques gives senior managers the skills needed to run the business well and gain a competitive advantage in winning new business.

Alongside technical expertise, business and management acumen are critical to the success of every company, which is why SummitSkills places equal importance on both skills sets in our Good Day promotional campaign. This aims to demonstrate to employers, employees and new entrants to the m&e industry that they can enjoy a satisfying and successful day in business, every day, by developing both their professional and personal skills base.

Using a series of case studies that prove training pays, SummitSkills hopes other firms will be inspired to develop their training programmes and achieve similar success.

CJ Timms Electrical Services (see box) proves that developing a sound business skills base is as relevant for sole traders and small firms as it is for large corporations.

We asked companies whether they engaged in business and management training for their staff. Worryingly, more than 40% said they did not

To compete effectively, companies need to learn how to expand and diversify their business. This can be achieved through gaining business and marketing skills and getting to grips with constantly evolving and increasingly faster information technology.

Keeping up to date with new and changing legislation and widening their offering by obtaining specialist technical skills – for example, in renewables – will also make smaller organisations more attractive to larger contractors, which need to subcontract in order to obtain that knowledge and enhance their own skills resource.

Developing skills can be done in different ways, and there are many training companies that can help, with funding often available, as CJ Timms has discovered. Getting the right advice is essential for choosing the best and most appropriate training.

Industry trade associations and local training providers are a good place to start. The sector’s trade associations offer a broad spectrum of courses, including: health and safety, risk assessment, site supervision and paperwork, cross-skilling, commercial contract management and estimating. Many qualify for continuous professional development (CPD) recognition.

SummitSkills is also currently working to identify and promote management courses that are tailored to the m&e industry and that incorporate flexible modes of delivery such as distance learning.

With the raft of advice and help available, and the support of trade associations and SummitSkills, there is no excuse for m&e companies to stand by and watch competitor businesses forge ahead.

While acquiring business skills cannot guarantee business success, the lack of business management and leadership skills, and most critically, the inability to identify entrepreneurial opportunities, will greatly hamper a company’s performance and limit its prospects in the uncertain times ahead.