Five hundred. A recent study claims this is the number of books children need to be surrounded by to improve their reading age. Apparently the mere presence of books is enough to inspire children to read. Hearing about this made me think. What if the same could be said about training? Could a culture of training and development have an impact on the performance of micro businesses?
Studies have shown that giving staff the opportunity to train and apply new skills reduces absenteeism and increases job satisfaction, which is crucial if you have a small workforce. Training also increases business survival. Startling figures from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills show that businesses that don't train are twice as likely to fail as those that do.
The benefits of a culture of training and development don't stop there. From a worker's point of view, training sends a clear message that their employer is investing in them. In fact, a recent European study showed that training funded by employers had a more positive effect than employee-funded training.
So there's a strong case for businesses to train and reap the rewards. However, recent figures from the UK Employer Skills Survey show that 41 per cent of employers do no training whatsoever. Sadly, many of them are small businesses.
It's true that larger businesses generally have more access to financial means and wider networks, but this shouldn't mean that small firms miss out. There are a range of things out there that are easy to access and a good way of getting started. Consider online webinars, attending specialist meet-up groups, using professional networking sites like LinkedIn and job shadowing or mentoring.
Going back to the books example - most parents probably won't have five hundred books to hand. They'll go to the library or use magazines and websites to encourage their children to read. It's the same for training. The key is to think laterally and find what works, so that you can reap the bottom line rewards that a training and development culture has to offer.
It may sound obvious, but talking to your staff about their skills and interests as well as their work is important. Not only does it build up good relations, but knowing that Barry in Accounts builds websites in his spare time may be very useful in the future.
Talking to your staff will help, but ultimately it's up to you to take ownership of your skills needs in the same way as you take ownership of your equipment or your premises. Don't accept training that's not right because it's the only thing on offer - decide what you need, and pursue it relentlessly.
You don't need to go it alone - there are plenty of people and organisations whose business is to help yours. After 21 years Investors in People still has a lot to offer - it's a cost-effective way of getting independent advice on whether your business strategy is aligned with the skills of your people. And don't dismiss your local college or university. Contrary to popular belief, they have a lot of flexibility in how they work with employers.
Part of having a highly skilled workforce is knowing that some people will be better than you at some things. Celebrate this. Being the boss doesn't mean you have to be the fount of all knowledge. If your staff have the right skills, give them the freedom, power and responsibility to use them.