APM survey finds SMEs have ‘concerning’ skills gaps in project management

APM polled over 500 project professionals working for UK-based SMEs and 93% based in the East of England said their employer needs to improve project skills across the workforce

More than nine in ten small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) in the East of England have been identified with “concerning” skills shortages in project management, putting at risk the delivery of future projects in the region, a survey by the Association for Project Management (APM), the chartered membership organisation for the project profession, has found.

The most popular solution to fixing the skills gap was ‘recruiting more widely across different professions’ (selected by 47% of East of England respondents) followed by ‘training and upskilling existing employees’ (44%) and apprenticeships (41%). Respondents could pick multiple options.

The skills gap was also cited when the same respondents were asked to rank the biggest challenges facing project growth. The top-ranked answer was ‘economic and political uncertainty’ (36%) followed by ‘lack of investment in training/professional development within my organisation’ (34%) and ‘a lack of understanding among employers or team leaders of future skills needs for project professionals’ (31%).

A large majority (94%) said their employer has enough time and resources to dedicate to training and development for project professionals

However, under two thirds (62%) said their SME places value on training and developing or upskilling project professionals.

Professor Adam Boddison OBE, Chief Executive of APM, said: “Our survey sheds vital light on the critical need for SMEs in the East of England to prioritise investment in project management. While it is somewhat encouraging that employers appear to understand the unique value of project professionals, it is concerning that 93% of respondents believe their SME needs to improve project skills at such a critical time with net zero, technology and global events disrupting business activity across the region.

“Project professionals are at the forefront of delivering growth and change but they need skills investment in order to provide real-time solutions for difficult challenges.

“As SMEs and the sector navigate an increasingly dynamic landscape, the need to manage projects effectively becomes ever more paramount for sustained growth and success. By taking action now to invest in project skills, employers can better streamline their operations and help ensure projects are delivered to budget, timescales and quality.”

Meanwhile, soft skills were highlighted as the most important attribute for successful project delivery. The highest-ranked answers were adaptability / flexibility and planning (both 20%) followed by team management (17%).

The skills gap is defined as the disparity between skills employers need or find desirable and the skills current or future employees possess to meet job role demands. The term dates to the 1990s but long-held concerns over the skills gap remain, exacerbated by globalisation, technology and the need for more specialised skills.

It follows APM’s Golden Thread Report 2024 conducted by PwC Research which found project management contributes to the UK economy £186.8 billion of annual gross value added (GVA) – a key measure of productivity. This was a five-year growth of over £30bn.

The project profession now employs an estimated 2.32 million full-time equivalent workers (FTEs) across all UK sectors, the report also found. It means 8.5% of the UK’s total FTEs are employed in project-related roles and the profession delivers over 9% of total UK GVA.

Professor Adam Boddison added: “As the chartered body for the profession, APM is committed to helping SMEs in the East of England to overcome any barriers they may face to bridge the skills gap with support and resources designed to empower their workforce with the necessary project skills.”

APM is committed to developing and promoting the value of project management to deliver improved project outcomes for the benefit of society. It supports SME project professionals with memberships, qualifications, chartered status, events, research and its online community hub. To learn more, visit www.apm.org.uk.

Image:  Professor Adam Boddison OBE, Chief Executive of APM

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