Starting and running a business is a big step for anyone to take. Your world revolves around activities like coming up with a business plan, finding funding, building relationships with customers and marketing your products, registering with the authorities, solving day-to-day problems and handling the day-to-day administrative tasks like accounting and taxes. These have always been part of getting a new business off the ground and of developing and running existing businesses, and it is likely that they will remain so into the future. But just as technology has changed the face of work and society, it has brought major changes to the way business operate, opening the door to lots of opportunities and benefits. Increasingly, you can deal with the authorities online, filing registration documents and tax returns digitally. The internet has brought new ways to reach and sell to customers around the world, and possibilities to connect through tools like social media.
But to make the most of this new world, fledgling entrepreneurs and established business owners alike need to know how to take advantage of the opportunities that technology offers. It is the same as with new technologies in the workplace or education: without the right skills, investments in equipment and infrastructure risk going to waste. This isn’t a trivial loss: a recent study by the UK Government found that a lack of digital skills could cost the British economy an estimated £63 billion a year in lost additional GDP!
In part as an answer to this problem, the European Commission has published an Entrepreneurship Competence Framework, or, ‘EntreComp’. The Framework aims to help people and organisations in Europe become more entrepreneurial by specifying a set of main areas of competence and a list of 15 specific competences that can be referenced as the core competences needed by entrepreneurs. A significant drive for the creation of EntreComp has been the European Commission’s own work identifying entrepreneurship as being important for society and individuals.
EntreComp covers a wide range of skills and competences that entrepreneurs need. From planning and management, to creativity, financial and economic literacy and working with others, the Framework takes a broad approach to entrepreneurship that sees it as something that has relevance to everyone. Digital skills are a key part of this, with relevance for all of the entrepreneurial competences.
Despite the rapid advances in technology, peoples’ digital skills, unfortunately, haven’t kept pace. There is a growing gap between the skills people need, and the skills they have, and there is also a worrying gap between peoples’ perception of the level of their skills, and the reality. We looked at this in more detail in our recent position paper, ‘Perception and Reality: Measuring Digital Skills in Europe’, which brought together the results of studies of digital skills in five European countries. In one study, in Austria, 94% of respondents described their digital skills as “average” to “very good”, but only 39% managed to perform that well when tested!
The problem is particularly relevant for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). Research by the European Commission shows that just 16% of SMEs sell their products and services online. SMEs also often lack sufficient resources to afford regular IT support, and this potential absence of digital skills can have a significant impact. Digital skills encompass more than just being able to use a word processor or spreadsheet; for entrepreneurs, knowing how to set up a new computer, configure email settings and troubleshoot common office IT problems is just as important.
There is perhaps often an assumption that entrepreneurs are different from ‘ordinary’ people: that they possess some unique talent. The reality is that anyone can be an entrepreneur. It is simply a matter of developing the right set of skills and competences, and whether you are running a bakery, clothes shop, garage, or an online-only business, digital skills will be an essential part of those competences.
There is a range of ECDL modules that can be used to build skills that are at the heart of entrepreneurship. The ECDL Base modules (Computer Essentials, Online Essentials, Word Processing and Spreadsheets) cover the basics that will help you use computers safely and effectively to track and plan finances, write a business plan, and use email. Intermediate modules, including Online Collaboration, Project Planning and Presentation can help you to work with others on your ideas, plan and track your progress in starting your business, and present your ideas and plans to investors or partners. Soon, ECDL Foundation will be launching a new module on Digital Marketing, which will help people to develop and certify their skills in using online platforms, including Facebook and Twitter, to market their business and reach customers in ways that haven’t previously been possible.
The world is always changing, and the nature of work and of starting and running a business is no different. Constant advances in technologies make the need for people to adapt and improve their skills a constant factor. ECDL skills certification programmes are regularly updated to reflect current skills needs, and initiatives like EntreComp provide a much needed ‘bigger-picture’ of what people need to learn to benefit from the opportunities that entrepreneurship can bring.