Skills, Knowledge and Organisational Performance

Contemporary Training Initiatives in Britain: A Small Business Perspective

The birth of the modern small business sector of the British economy can be traced back to the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution (Boswell, 1973). Until recently, however, its growth and development has been largely unnoticed and unrecorded (Matlay, 1996). During the 1960s business observers and commentators began showing an interest in smaller firms and their contribution to the British economy. The growing interest in the British ‘Cinderella’ generated a need for more accurate data and dedicated small business statistics (Matlay, 1994; Scott, 1986). Parliamentary lobbying led, in 1969, to the appointment of the Committee of Inquiry on Small Firms, which reported on its findings two years later (Bolton Report, 1971). According to Goss (1991:2), the Bolton Report was successful in quantifying, for the first time, the important contribution that the small business sector made to the stability and development of the British economy. It also identified the main problems and barriers associated with its inherently large size, diversity and turbulence (Matlay, 1998). One of the most important and worrying aspects to emerge from the findings of the report related to the lack of vocational education and training (VET) prevalent among small business owner/managers and their workforce. In the context of the ongoing training debate, this was widely perceived to confirm and reinforce the argument that endemic skills shortages resulted in loss of competitiveness at firm level and contributed significantly to Britain’s long-term, relative economic decline (Matlay, 1997a).

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